Prospects of up-cycling Sunflower oilcake

When Aleh Manchuliantsau was a kid, he had a dream. His dream was to eat chips whenever he wanted. He never dreamed his dream would help feed the world’s population, reduce the impact on the planet, and combat diet-related diseases. His secret ingredient: sunflower oilcake. 

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Earth’s population is expected to reach 10 billion people by the year 2050. The myriad problems created by our growing population concern everyone from urban planners, to climate researchers, to farmers and food scientists.

Aleh Manchulianstau, a food scientist, and co-founder of PLANETARIANS, is tackling the challenge of feeding our rapidly expanding population head-on.

And the most exciting part? The solution he’s working on doesn’t involve growing any additional crops.

In late 2016, Manchuliantsau stumbled across defatted sunflower seeds – the dry matter left after oil extraction – a 35% protein ingredient that is either completely discarded by the food industry or fed to cows, because of its hard, woodchip-like texture.

Manchuliantsau saw tremendous inefficiency in the fact that cows are given feed that is 35% protein, when beef is only 26% protein. However, he also saw an opportunity.

- Why not use tech to make yummy products straight from oilcake?!- he thought.

And if we manage to do it, then we can make people healthier, reduce pressure on the land and reduce CO2 emissions, isn’t it fun?!

Source:  USDA, Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade Report , December 2017,  Energy and protein feed-to-food conversion efficiencies in the US and potential food security gains from dietary changes , A Shepon. Calculated as Calories from Annual Supply of Defatted seeds divided for FDA recommended 2000 cal per day divided for 365 days

Source: USDA, Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade Report, December 2017, Energy and protein feed-to-food conversion efficiencies in the US and potential food security gains from dietary changes, A Shepon. Calculated as Calories from Annual Supply of Defatted seeds divided for FDA recommended 2000 cal per day divided for 365 days


Technology tests

Defatted seeds are the dry matter that’s left after oil extraction from crops grown for their oil, such as sunflower, canola, cotton seeds, etc. On average, 20 pounds of defatted seeds are created for every gallon of extracted oil. The world's supply of protein meals in 2017 was 334.82 million metric tons according to the USDA; these 334 million metric tons of defatted seeds contain enough calories to feed 1.5 billion people for a year without growing any additional crops.

Historically, defatted seeds have only been used in animal feed. However, defatted sunflower seeds repurposed into human food can provide consumers with a cheap, clean, sustainable source of plant-based protein, and add value to supplier profits.

- Initially when I stumbled upon the defatted seeds - I was curious about protein. I used to pay $5000 for the metric ton of Soy protein, the same ton of oilcake I could buy for a mere $170, - recalls Aleh. 

But unlike the conventional isolation - we thought - why should we get rid of fiber?! Fiber is food for our microbiome and heavily popularized these days. We decided to up-cycle the both.
And that decision allowed us to cut the costs dramatically: 

But how to make the hard like wood chips fiber palatable? We needed to figure out how to use sunflower oilcake in a product that humans could eat. 

Together with co-founder Anastasia Tkacheva, Aleh had a theory that steam explosion might puff the fiber, while high pressure and temperature could cook and sterilize the feed grade ingredient.

To source our ingredients we have been working with people at ADM and Cargill as well as an independent company in Colorado. ADM agreed to expel the oilcake for our experiments. 

To make feasibility tests of our theory we came to the Food Science and Nutrition Plant of the University of Minnesota. We worked with a very helpful team at the University of Minnesota (thank you!), and after several experiments, we had something usable. Our initial idea was to grind it into flour, but when we looked at the chunks of oilcake, it was almost a ready to eat product. It was the first iteration of sunflower chips, the first product made using sunflower meal as the primary ingredient. 

We sent our samples independently to General Mills’ Medallion Labs and Market Fresh lab and soon got the confirmation that our samples are food grade. Another good news - we turned some insoluble fiber into soluble, and the protein has all essential amino acids. 



General Mills' Medallion Lab verified the nutrition facts. Now we know that our sunflower chips are a food-grade product that we can commercially manufacture and sell. 

Good, but will they eat it?

Market tests

Once we figured out how to break down the fiber and make it edible for humans - we came up with sunflower chips, the first product made using sunflower meal as the primary ingredient. 

What makes our products stand out? - There is nothing else like our products on the market. Our sunflower chips have three times more protein, two times more fiber, and three times less fat per serving than typical potato chips. As people are eating healthier, this is something they’re looking for. 

It was a good opportunity, but we needed the money for the pilot run. To raise that money we needed to show the demand... 

We have been working on this idea for over one year. It’s been a challenge to get people to try our products. I left bags of sunflower chips wherever I went, gas stations, you name it, just to collect feedback. We were curious about the texture and the flavor, so we started with 72 flavors and then narrowed it down to six flavors. 

Our efforts were supported by Techstars. We were accepted into the accelerator and made it’s founders so excited about our technology, that even managed to convince them to invest in us on demo day. Raised funds allowed us to find a co-packer in Minnesota and manufacture a first commercial run in mid-February 2018.

Online sales are the easiest way to find our chips, on our website and also on Amazon. The benefit to ordering directly from our website is that you can subscribe and you’ll never run out! Most of our customers want to see our products in their grocery stores, and we’re working on getting into some natural food stores. But we believe grocery is not the only channel--we see great potential for our products in schools. Our chips are healthy--they are high in fiber, high in protein. We are working right now with schools to make our products available to students. Right now we have four schools in New York who are offering sunflower chips in their vending machines.

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Test sales of Sunflower chips on Amazon during the Spring, 2018 brought in $37K in sales, demonstrating a 69% average monthly growth rate.

What people say about PLANETARIANS?

"Vegetarians of the world - buy some snacks against obesity! (I just did...)" - Brad Feld, an American entrepreneur, author, blogger, and venture capitalist at Foundry Group in Boulder, Colorado

“I’m happy that more and more companies make meat substitutes. Thanks to PLANETARIANS, now we have Sunflower chips with plenty of protein.” - Brian Kateman, president of the Reducetarian Foundation

“Repurposing defatted seeds from animal to human consumption not only helps to feed the growing population but does so in an environmentally friendly manner.  In order to meet our global needs of almost doubling our food output without increasing valuable resource use, we in the ag and food innovation community are going to have to think of creative and valuable solutions like this one.”- Sam Fiorello, Chief Operating Officer of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

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Sunflower chips were featured on ABC, Today’s Dietitian, Mind Body Green, Successful Farming. The company was recognized as the Circular Economy Emerging Innovator by Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

We’re flattered, but there is still work for us to do.  

Addressable Market

Shifting consumer preferences for healthier choices drive demand for plant-based proteins, which are growing at a CAGR of 6.7%. Rising prices for plant-based proteins force food manufacturers to identify opportunities to utilize nutrient-dense and sustainable ingredients for the products their consumers demand. That focus has created a robust marketplace for functional, and other value-added ingredients.

Source:  Nielsen, 2017


To fit that demand, PLANETARIANS developed SunMeal - the high protein, high fiber flour from defatted sunflower seeds. SunMeal was offered as an ingredient for use in doughs/baking mixes, pasta/ramen, bars/pretzels. Being a part of Sunflower seeds -Generally Recognizable as Safe ingredients (GRAS) - SunMeal extends its benefits:

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SunMeal is a dry, flour-like ingredient with the neutral taste of sunflower seeds. SunMeal has 35% plant-based protein, 18% fiber, and just 1% fat.

  • 5x cheaper than pea protein

  • Non-GMO, Allergen-free, unlike soy-based proteins

  • Gluten-free, unlike wheat-based protein

  • Plant-based, unlike whey protein

  • 2x more protein than in beer spent grain flour

Replacing 30% of All-purpose flour with SunMeal doubles the protein and fiber content, keeping costs the same.

  • High in fiber to feed the microbiome

  • Ready to eat – it can be used in energy bars as is

  • And it’s sustainable - it does not require growing any additional crops.

SunMeal, presented at Food Waste Summit, Fancy Food Show 2018 and IFT 2018 drew tremendous interest from a range of brands such as PepsiCo, Mondelez, Kraft Heinz, etc.

Formulations companies such as Mattson and Griffith Foods offered collaboration in new products creation, based on SunMeal.

Future applications

Through own development and partnerships the company plans to scale its ingredients to the following applications:


Consumer products: New healthy products in the following categories: prepared foods ($15B), salty snacks ($27B), cookies and crackers ($15B), diet and nutrition ($66B), cereal and granola ($8.5B), desserts ($12B), yogurts ($7.6B).

Healthy Fast Food: So far we had meat-centered fast food chains – chicken, burgers, fish-based sushi... What if we make the first plant-centered chain around defatted seeds as ingredients?! Sunflower defatted seeds contain 35% protein by weight > 26% in beef.

Any Food into Superfood: While the cholesterol-free plant-based protein and dietary fiber as the food for microbiome are considered as the most valuable ingredients, repurposing defatted seeds from animal to human consumption creates an opportunity for products fortification for nutrition-focused customers at a fraction of the cost.

CO2 reduction in foodservice operations: Animal agriculture produces 66.11 GT of carbon dioxide emissions annually according to Drawdown research. Due to changes in consumer preferences for healthier meals, this creates an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via offering more plant-based meals as an alternative for animal based. McDonald's can reach its ambitious goal to prevent 150 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 replacing just 16,7% of meat-based meals with plant-based.

Ambitious goals… Do we have a plan to reach it?

Applications tests

High protein high fiber PLANETARIANS ingredients help food brands to convert bakery applications into a good source of protein.

In January 2019 with the help of BLU1877 we validated at Barilla’s R&D Pilot plant that we can convert bread, crackers, biscuits and tortillas into “Good Source” of protein” - reports Anastasia Tkacheva, PLANETARIANS’ Co-founder & CTO.

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And developed black pasta… (also “Good Source” of protein):


In February and March with help of Italian chicken processor Amadori we made flexitarian meatballs, patties, minced meat and ragu:

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As a result in March 2019 PLANETARIANS has closed a $750,000 Seed round with participation from Barilla Group's BLU1877, Techstars, SOSV, The Yield Lab and group of angels.


PLANETARIANS is an ingredient tech company, upcycling by-products and solid food waste into high-protein high fiber ingredients. PLANETARIANS technology: sterilizes, destroys anti-nutrients and functionalizes fiber in one step.

PLANETARIANS ingredients convert bakery applications into a good source of protein and fiber. Imagine food becomes superfood, healthy fast food, cost-effective humanitarian food aid… Imagined? – Our job to make it real!