“Lupini beans have more protein and fiber per calorie than any other crop, and more minerals that coconut water [including folate and magnesium], but they are also a highly sustainable crop because they are naturally pest resistant, fix nitrogen from the air, and are drought tolerant,” BRAMI Inc founder Aaron Gatti told FoodNavigator-USA.
“From a nutritional perspective, there is really nothing like BRAMI beans out there; they have 4g protein and 4g fiber per [30g] serving and only 35 calories, and they are really satisfying," added Gatti, who debuted his brand at Expo West last month.
"Even if you compare them with other healthy snacks like nuts, nothing even comes close.
“In South America they are an ingredient in stews and things, but in Mediterranean countries people eat them as snacks, which is a tradition that goes back to Roman times when the army would eat them on their campaigns (hence BRAMI’s strapline: ‘Snack like a Roman’).”
I put a pack in front of an angel investor and he ate it in two minutes
The lightbulb moment for Gatti – who used to snack on pickled lupini beans as a child in Italy but hadn't given them a great deal of thought since – came three years ago during a trip to Italy with his girlfriend (now-wife): “We found lupini beans in a store, and she said these are like Italian edamame. What if they sold them in different flavors? And that was my a-ha! moment.
“I put a pack in front of an angel investor and he ate it in two minutes, and that gave me the impetus to move forward. But it still took almost two years from that point to get to where I am now, even though it sounds like it’s really simple product. The flavor profile changes over time, and if you change the ratios of any of the ingredients even a tiny bit it significantly impacts taste and texture.
“I had to get the recipe exactly right and I wanted a super-clean label with no preservatives, so I basically turned my house into a bean laboratory. People often joke with me that I’m the only person they know crazy enough to have done this. From start to finish the process takes a couple of weeks. How many manufacturers would want to deal with that?”
There are chickens and eggs everywhere in this industry
He added: “It was almost a miracle that I found a co-packer, but I got there in the end.
"Almost no one wants to test out a completely new product unless you’ve proved yourself. But there are chickens and eggs everywhere in this industry.
"The word BRAMI comes from the Italian verb Bramare, which means ‘to passionately desire'," says BRAMI Inc founder Aaron Gatti.
“Retailers won’t take you on unless you’ve got a distributor, and distributors won’t take you on unless you’ve got retail buyers. It's the same with money. You can’t raise capital until you show investors real numbers, but you can't show great numbers unless you’ve got capital, and so it goes on.
"But I am so lucky to to have had interest from some large retailers, and hired some amazing people on my team at such an early stage in the business. I'm also really glad I went to Expo West even though I was expecting to have been on the market longer when I booked the booth and I was pretty nervous about it," added Gatti, who initially financed the business out of his own pocket but has also attracted funding from two angel investors.
"The reception we had there was just incredible."
Unlike some European companies selling lupini beans, which pickle them in brine and sell them in jars or tubs, BRAMI Inc founder Aaron Gatti sells them as a vacuum packed portable snack.
First he cooks his beans (he uses a European variety that’s grown in South America) and then pickles them with spices, sea salt, and citrus for several days.
He then vacuum packs them fresh, without the use of artificial preservatives, creating an unusual fresh-tasting, moist snack with a shelf-life of more than a year (once opened, the product will keep for two weeks in the fridge). “People are taken aback as it’s a shelf-stable snack, but it’s not dry.”
It did well in stores even where we weren’t doing demos, which I wasn’t expecting to be honest
Initially, however, it was a case of going door to door to independent retailers in New York, said Gatti: “We soft launched in January and went store by store and the response was fantastic, although not everyone has been sure about where to put our products – they fit in well with kale chips and dried fruits and superfood snacks, but we’ve also seen people put them in natural snack sets or at the checkout.
"They could fit in the produce section too, but it’s just too early to tell which is definitely the best location.
“I think what really shocked some store managers was that it did well in stores even where we weren’t doing demos, which I wasn’t expecting to be honest, as it’s a completely new product, and we knew we'd have to educate people not only on what it is, but also on how to eat it.”
In Italy, for example, some people like to ‘pop’ lupini beans into their mouths and discard the shells, while US consumers unfamiliar with this Mediterranean tradition often eat the whole thing, he said. The good thing about BRAMI beans is that the brining step makes the shells soft and flavorful, so either option works.
“We discovered that 80% of people that tried our beans liked them just as much, if not more, with the shell, so now we just say ‘there’s no wrong way to eat BRAMI beans’.”