A successful product formula needs just the right ingredients in the right proportions. The same axiom applies to a great company and/or a disruptive innovation. It requires just the right combination of people, process, product and consumer appeal—which in this case, involves protein, an essential dietary macronutrient.


That’s exactly the story of San Francisco’s EQUII (formerly Cella Farms), a food tech company using fermentation to create its namesake bread with twice the protein (10g per slice), 30% fewer carbohydrates and 50% less total sugar than other leading brands. Each slice also delivers a complete protein profile with all nine essential amino acids (just like egg, chicken or beef animal proteins). After raising $6 million in capital funding last fall, EQUII started distributing product into foodservice and direct to consumers through Amazon and Equii.com. Not surprisingly, its proprietary, high-protein bread mix earned a 2023 FABI award this spring from the National Restaurant Association.

Here’s a closer, behind-the-scenes look at EQUII’s people, process and product.

People: Just two years old, EQUII reflects the complementary skills of its growing team, including co-founders Monica Bhatia, PhD; Baljit Ghotra, PhD; and Sebastien Canonne, M.O.F.

Bhatia, Equii’s co-CEO, is a 16-year expert in biotech manufacturing, ingredients and fermentation and holds seveal related bi-processing patents. Ghotra, EQUII’s other co-CEO, is a grain and plant protein expert with 26 years of experience at Nature’s Fynd, Mondelez International and several of the nation’s largest food ingredient companies. He holds as many as 16 patents, including eight patents in grain-related science and technologies. Ghotra and Bhatia met when he was vice president of food research at ADM. ADM was an investor in Geltor, a vegan collagen start-up where Bhatia served as vice president of process development.

“It wasn’t long before we started talking about the major industry gaps in dietary protein ingredients,” Ghotra recalls. “Our discussions eventually led to this EQUII start-up, which closes many gaps in current protein ingredient offerings in the industry: clean taste, complete nutrition (just like animal proteins), affordability and sustainability.”

Bringing gold-standard taste to this technology is EQUII Co-Founder and Culinary Executive Vice President Sebastien Canonne, M.O.F. A master pastry chef, Canonne has earned 15 culinary awards, served as executive pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton Hotels and founded The French Pastry School in Chicago.

Process: Senior Principal Scientist and Project Manager Simarata Dhillon, PhD, says EQUII’s strength is its proprietary fermentation approach. It adds yeast-based microbes to ferment grain-based raw materials to produce complete protein flours. During the fermentation bio-process, the starch is depleted and it results in a grain biomass rich in protein and fibers.

“The R&D work required careful optimization of protein properties and baking process to achieve the same height, gluten matrix and air cell matrix as expected in a normal bread,” notes Dhillon. “Protein alters the water binding properties of dough and baking temperature as well. Changes in recipe, time and temperature of baking were achieved through extensive research on protein interactions with dough before and during baking. Due to the desire for a clean ingredient label, we conducted several trials to identify the optimal preservative matrix for a target shelf life. To make baking process a drop-in for regular bakery, we partnered with actual bakeries to lock down product quality and exact baking parameters at scale."

Dhillon notes that EQUII’s high protein flours ultimately are grain agnostic—allowing use of not only wheat but also oats, rice, corn and other inputs.

Product: Breads and other baked goods are not perceived “healthy” due to high carbs, low protein and low-quality proteins. Conversely, many new high-protein bakery offerings are regarded as too dense and crumbly with a chalky and/or bitter aftertaste. A related topic involves plant-based proteins, which have been critiqued for perceived lack of clean taste and flavor, nutritional value, clean labeling and ease of digestibility.

Prepared Foods’ Spirit of Innovation Award judges gave high taste and texture scores to EQUII’s Complete Wheat Bread. Meanwhile the bread delivers 10g of complete protein per slice (20g of protein in a sandwich) and is more easily digested because of its fermented origin.

“This can be a disruptive product in the sleepy bread category,” says Ghotra. “At EQUII, our mission is to make everyday eating more nutritious, accessible, enjoyable, and sustainable. We believe we’re creating a new standard for everyday pantry staples that are healthier, more delicious, and guilt-free.”