Concerned about health and the food system, Birmingham native Aidan Altman gave up meat and dairy in favor of heart-smart, vegan fare. That led to ultimately become the co-founder and CEO of Fora Foods, offering a vegetable-based butter substitute that may taste and act more like butter than margarine.
“I have always loved food and had an affinity for food and food culture,” Altman said. “From a young age, I wanted to be involved in the food industry, somehow.”
After graduating from the Frankel Jewish Academy, Altman attended the University of Michigan, earning a degree in international relations and national security. In 2016, Altman founded Departure Snacks in the Chicago area. The company focused on healthy snacks that drew upon cultural inspiration from around the world, such as chimichurri from Argentina or berbere, popular in Ethiopia.
“I've always viewed food, especially at the scale we are doing, as a means to convey a message or mission. It's a visceral thing that everyone understands,” he said. “With Departure Snacks, the idea was traditional snack food bases with spices from around the world to create a cultural exchange and understanding.”
After working in the food industry, Altman said he began to better understand how products are made, which in turn led to a desire to bring not only healthy foods to the market, but those that are more sustainable.
“When you see how products are made and where they come from, you notice that not everything is sustainable or made the way it should be. It's probably not the best to eat these products, as they can be bad for the planet and a lot of stakeholders involved, from factory workers to animals,” he said. “I stopped eating meat and don't buy dairy products at the store. Most are made from industrial factory farms, which are a problem for the food system.”
Embracing a vegan lifestyle himself, Altman joined forces with Grand Rapids native and friend from the University of Michigan, Andrew McClure, with the mission of developing a better butter alternative. In 2017, they formed Fora Foods, based in Brooklyn.
“After the first company, and understanding how the food industry works, we knew we needed something that can compete with these industrialized dairy products on the shelf,” he said. “With butter, everyone understands the alternative – margarine – is really poor. But there's nothing really with the same texture and taste as butter.”
Dubbed FabaButter, the alternative they created utilizes aquafaba, which is a byproduct in the hummus production process that is essentially the water leftover after cooking chickpeas and legumes. The soluble solids in the water act as an emulsifier to blend other ingredients. As a result, FabaButter uses a smaller carbon footprint to produce, and has a consistency and flavor more akin to butter than margarine.
“We went through about 60 different iterations of the product before we got to 'butter,' with the right flavor, price and how it fits in the market place,” Altman said. “There were many trials and tribulations in the formulation process. We worked for about a year before it was market ready.”
In July, the company raised about $1.4 million to launch in the United States. It has since been approved by Michelin star chefs and sold nationwide. Altman said they expect FabaButter to be available at retail outlets this summer, selling for about $7.49 a tub.
“I feel really passionate about it,” Altman said. “It could have a huge global impact.”