Growing up in South Florida, Jenny Goldfarb ate pretty much everything, including a lot of Publix subs. But six or seven years ago, she began to become concerned about the treatment of animals on farms—even those touted as organic or humane.
"I was so horrified," says Goldfarb.
So she began cooking plant-based food, launched a vegan food blog and started tinkering with making plant-based slices that resembled classic deli staples, like corned beef.
What started out as a side project is now a thriving Los Angeles-based business, Unreal Deli, that has reconnected Goldfarb with her beloved Publix. The chain recently began carrying Unreal Deli products at each of its locations in the Southeast, including in Florida.
Goldfarb's business got a significant boost in 2019, when she appeared on Shark Tank and won a $250,000 investment from Mark Cuban. The show "astronomically put us on the map," says Goldfarb. It helped expand Unreal's consumer base from a handful of delis and restaurants to large regional grocers.
In addition to Goldfarb's corned "beef," the company also makes "steak" and roasted "turkey" slices, using ingredients like wheat gluten, lentils, cannellini beans, beets and chickpeas in place of meat. The company operates two commercial kitchens in L.A. that crank out 1,000 lbs. of slices every day, and is adding a third production facility on the East Coast this year.
Unreal Deli is following in the footsteps of successful plant-based food makers like Impossible and Beyond Meat, and riding a trend that is seeing restaurants like Chipotle add plant-based "chorizo" and chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken offer plant-based "chicken" nuggets.
Goldfarb says "people are waking up" to the impact that what they eat has on their health and the environment. But guess what? "They still want to eat delicious food," says Goldfarb.