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Entrepreneur Spreads Word About The Amazing Chickpea



Sunil Kumar is the first to make a peanut-less spread that taste and spreads like peanut butter but is made out of roasted chickpeas.

It’s the modern-day version of having your cake and eating it, too. By adding two Minnesota-grown products to his chickpea spread, Sunil Kumar was able to qualify for free consulting services from the state, while making his product taste more like peanut butter.

Kumar was a full-time IT executive when he began experimenting with making a peanut-butter-like product out of chickpeas, a staple in his native Indian diet. He didn’t grow up consuming peanut butter like his daughters, but he was intrigued by the number of their friends who had a peanut allergy. They were living in Virginia at the time where nut butters are iconic.

His original product was made from roasted chickpeas, salt, oil and sugar, but when he discovered that he could get free services from the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute (AURI) if his product used two agricultural products native to Minnesota, he started experimenting with adding sunflower seeds and local honey to his recipe—a move that made the chickpea spread taste more like peanut butter and be less sticky. 

AURI’s mission statement is to “foster long-term economic benefit for Minnesota through value-added agricultural products,” and Kumar said their services have been invaluable in helping him develop and scale a new product. They connected him with food scientists and gave him advice that saved him years of learning on his own.

One of his mentors there even suggested adding a chocolate flavor, much like Nutella, to his crunchy and smooth line-up and it’s become his best seller. Called The Amazing Chickpea, the spreads come in plastic jars similar to those peanut butter is sold in.

There are about 1.2 million, or just over 2 percent of children and teens who have been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, according to Peanut Allergy.com, quoting stats from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. And there’s been an increase of 21 percent in peanut allergies in children since 2010.

The product comes in four flavors, including Original, without sunflower seeds.

Kumar came to the U.S. from India to get a master’s degree in technology. “I started a PhD but ran out of money,” he says, adding a teaching assistant’s salary didn’t pay much. On one of this trips home, his parents introduced him to his now wife, a doctor of internal medicine in India. The couple, both of whom were from small towns in India, moved here for more opportunities. “In India, we have to work harder because of the class system,” he points out. 

But once he decided to become an entrepreneur on top of his day job, the real work started. His first product was debuted at the Linden Hills Farmers Market and the feedback was that the texture was too gritty and it didn’t mimic peanut butter closely enough. His oldest daughter also was one of his tasters and although she was always positive in her critiques, he could tell her real reaction by the expression on her face, he says, laughing. 

He made adjustments based on the farmers market feedback and his AURI consultants, and began selling 30 to 40 jars in three hours at the markets. 

He now has a packer in northern Minnesota, but still uses the GIA shared kitchen in St. Paul for refining and developing new products, such as a roasted chickpea powder that can be used in smoothies as protein. 

“I think his product is special because beans like chickpeas are a nourishing food that Americans can certainly get more of in their life,” said Chef Marshall O’Brien, who works with individuals and groups on nutrition and is helping Kunar get exposure for his product. “And for organizations/schools districts that care about the environment, beans have a low carbon footprint compared to certain animal based proteins.”

The Amazing Chickpea is sold online and in select grocery stores in the Twin Cities area, but his largest opportunity has become the schools, because it meets the USDA guidelines and can be a substitute for meat or for nut-based products. It’s a healthy product and is lower in calories than peanut butter, although not significantly. 

He is currently in several school districts in four Eastern states, and is targeting schools both locally and nationally as his main market. Getting into Target stores is also part of his marketing plan, and he’s been working the Fancy Food show circuit. 

To date, his company The Amazing Chickpea has been self-funded, but if all grows as expected, he plans to bring in investors.

t’s the modern-day version of having your cake and eating it, too. By adding two Minnesota-grown products to his chickpea spread, Sunil Kumar was able to qualify for free consulting services from the state, while making his product taste more like peanut butter.

Kumar was a full-time IT executive when he began experimenting with making a peanut-butter-like product out of chickpeas, a staple in his native Indian diet. He didn’t grow up consuming peanut butter like his daughters, but he was intrigued by the number of their friends who had a peanut allergy. They were living in Virginia at the time where nut butters are iconic.

His original product was made from roasted chickpeas, salt, oil and sugar, but when he discovered that he could get free services from the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute (AURI) if his product used two agricultural products native to Minnesota, he started experimenting with adding sunflower seeds and local honey to his recipe—a move that made the chickpea spread taste more like peanut butter and be less sticky. 

AURI’s mission statement is to “foster long-term economic benefit for Minnesota through value-added agricultural products,” and Kumar said their services have been invaluable in helping him develop and scale a new product. They connected him with food scientists and gave him advice that saved him years of learning on his own.

One of his mentors there even suggested adding a chocolate flavor, much like Nutella, to his crunchy and smooth line-up and it’s become his best seller. Called The Amazing Chickpea, the spreads come in plastic jars similar to those peanut butter is sold in.

There are about 1.2 million, or just over 2 percent of children and teens who have been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, according to Peanut Allergy.com, quoting stats from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. And there’s been an increase of 21 percent in peanut allergies in children since 2010.

Kumar came to the U.S. from India to get a master’s degree in technology. “I started a PhD but ran out of money,” he says, adding a teaching assistant’s salary didn’t pay much. On one of this trips home, his parents introduced him to his now wife, a doctor of internal medicine in India. The couple, both of whom were from small towns in India, moved here for more opportunities. “In India, we have to work harder because of the class system,” he points out. 

But once he decided to become an entrepreneur on top of his day job, the real work started. His first product was debuted at the Linden Hills Farmers Market and the feedback was that the texture was too gritty and it didn’t mimic peanut butter closely enough. His oldest daughter also was one of his tasters and although she was always positive in her critiques, he could tell her real reaction by the expression on her face, he says, laughing. 

He made adjustments based on the farmers market feedback and his AURI consultants, and began selling 30 to 40 jars in three hours at the markets. 

He now has a packer in northern Minnesota, but still uses the GIA shared kitchen in St. Paul for refining and developing new products, such as a roasted chickpea powder that can be used in smoothies as protein. 

“I think his product is special because beans like chickpeas are a nourishing food that Americans can certainly get more of in their life,” said Chef Marshall O’Brien, who works with individuals and groups on nutrition and is helping Kunar get exposure for his product. “And for organizations/schools districts that care about the environment, beans have a low carbon footprint compared to certain animal based proteins.”

The Amazing Chickpea is sold online and in select grocery stores in the Twin Cities area, but his largest opportunity has become the schools, because it meets the USDA guidelines and can be a substitute for meat or for nut-based products. It’s a healthy product and is lower in calories than peanut butter, although not significantly. 

He is currently in several school districts in four Eastern states, and is targeting schools both locally and nationally as his main market. Getting into Target stores is also part of his marketing plan, and he’s been working the Fancy Food show circuit. 

To date, his company The Amazing Chickpea has been self-funded, but if all grows as expected, he plans to bring in investors. 

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