Chicken nuggets have long been a favorite food for many children and thus a staple of school lunch menus. In recent years, some recipes required reformulating in order to meet the nutritional guidelines set forth by the National School Lunch Program. Some processors developed products specifically to meet the program’s criteria, while at the same time address animal welfare concerns of parents.
MEAT+POULTRY spoke with Brian Twomey, founder and managing director of Somma Food Group, Dallas. His company developed a line of better-for-you chicken products specifically for school foodservice menus.
M+P: How did Somma Foods come to be?
Brian Twomey: Somma Foods was founded by three foodservice and restaurant industry veterans with the mission of providing better food for all. We are committed to providing clean label, natural foods that also deliver on great taste, and we work with our school foodservice partners to develop products that are tailored to both their needs and the eating habits of the consumers they serve. For example, our Merrywood Farms yogurt parfait is an ideal grab-and-go breakfast item, and our Chickentopia chicken drumsticks were thoughtfully developed to be both fun and delicious while also providing a great vehicle for sauces due to lower sodium content. Our unique, chef-driven approach to new product development delivers new versions of consumer favorites and gives us the opportunity to explore cutting-edge trends in ingredients, dietary sensitivity and flavors.
M+P: What is Chickentopia?
Twomey: Chickentopia is our line of chicken products made from chickens raised cage-free with no antibiotics ever, on a 100% vegetable-fed diet with no animal by-products. Our clean-label chicken products include breaded tenders, filets and nuggets with whole grain, non-GMO breading. We also produce clean-label chicken franks that are nitrate and nitrite free under the Chickentopia brand, and recently introduced mini corn dogs that are served in sets of six per serving.
M+P: How did Chickentopia come to fruition?
Twomey: Chickentopia stemmed directly from our founding mission of better food for all. The name Chickentopia came right from the primary audience the brand now serves – the 8-year-old daughter of one of our founders. She was in her dad’s office when he was trying to come up with the name, and she asked to help. He said, “Our chickens are raised with good food, no needles and they don’t have to live in cages.” Her response, “Well, that sounds like Chickentopia!” inspired a name that resonates both with Somma’s founding mission and with an audience that desires chicken raised with quality and care in mind.
M+P: How did the powerhouse founders of Chickentopia assist in the development of Chickentopia?
Twomey: Each of our founders brings a key skill set to Somma, from Kindergarten to 12th grade and foodservice industry expertise, to experience creating and marketing unique retail brands. As the story above illustrates, we get inspiration from our own kids and families. Our goal as founders was to start a company that provides the kind of food we want to serve to our own children, and to do what we could to reduce the barriers to high-quality, nutritious and great-tasting foods to other kids and families.
M+P: What criteria are followed when your co-packers source ingredients to produce Chickentopia?
Twomey: Our chicken is sourced from partner growers that are able to deliver on our stringent quality and animal welfare requirements. It’s important to us, and it’s important to our customers. We source only natural ingredients and strive to make our products’ ingredient statements as simple and clean as possible. If it is not absolutely needed, it’s not in there. We understand that our customers and their consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients in the food that they’re serving or eating, and it’s our goal to deliver great nutrition and taste, simply.
M+P: Are there plans to make Chickentopia available to retail and foodservice beyond schools?
Twomey: Yes, very much so. We are moving quickly into additional foodservice channels, and are exploring retail opportunities as we speak. We recently partnered with Dot Foods to make our products available to a much broader foodservice audience, and we are already seeing success.
M+P: What’s in the future for Somma Foods?
Twomey: We plan to continue to grow our footprint in schools, while strategically expanding into new foodservice channels and retail. Our new product development engine is running at full power, and you will see us making a big push into breakfast this coming school year. It’s a daypart that continues to grow rapidly, and also presents us with the opportunity to provide clean products that fuel constantly evolving consumer eating habits and lifestyles.