Cheese Revolution #1: The World vs Japan

Let's explore the recent trends in the plant-based cheese category.

Hello, Market Shakers!

Today marks the start of our latest cycle dedicated to plant-based cheese trends, also the final chapter of our series on the plant-based revolution. We may explore more plant-based categories in the future or revisit past categories, so stay with us on this journey.

Like with meat, milk, and yogurt, the dairy-free cheese category is reaching new highs, stepping out of the shadow of specialized stores. Food innovation, health awareness, and ethical concerns have given the category momentum, with a once-in-a-century pandemic for context. The past year accelerated a nascent shift born in the 2010s, with consumers seeking to eat healthier products, for themselves and for the planet. 

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Summary of this edition

  • From the 80s to 2020s

  • Worldwide trends

  • The market in Japan

From the 80s to 2020s

Though hard to precisely pinpoint, the commercialization of plant-based cheese products is said to have started in the 80s. What’s sure, however, is that the category’s first products, often based on fermented soy, were no match for real cheese. From flavor to texture, brands had a lot of R&D to do to come up with products that would convince consumers. 

“Plant-based cheese (...) faced hurdles to consumer adoption because many available products do not sufficiently imitate the taste or texture of cheese that consumers love.”

Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives Spring Up to Satisfy Fast-Growth Market

But like the other plant-based categories, it was a matter of research and time for dairy-free cheese to get some shelf space. Two decades later, a new wave of products hit the market, some good enough to convince consumers to ditch their regular slice of cheese. The growing popularity of flexitarian and vegan diets, but also the great improvements in food technology fueled the expansion of commercial dairy-free cheese products. Interestingly, the development of recipe books also encouraged the most adventurous consumers to make their own alternative cheese.

The new generation of plant-based cheese is made from a wide variety of ingredients - a big change from the tofu-based products vegan consumers had to settle with for years. Raw or processed, the products available today are made from vegetable oils (coconut), seeds (sunflower, sesame, rice), and, nuts (almonds, cashews, walnut…). They come in different shapes — block, slice, shreds, powder, replicate the classics we love — cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, parmesan. 

Their quality improved, too, and there’s more room for improvements with taste and texture. Dairy-free cheeses are getting ready to meet a demand exceeding the needs of vegan and lactose-intolerant consumers. Cheese is typically a product consumers have a hard time letting go of and is often the last bastion for consumers switching to a vegan diet. 

A lot of people tell me that they would love to go vegan, but couldn’t live without cheese. I get it. It’s delicious and satisfying. If vegan cheese makes life a bit easier for people to go vegan, I’m doing my part to change the world.

Alice Shopland, Angel Food founder
Vegan cheese brand Angel Food crowd-funded $385,000 in nine days

For a long time, food manufacturers struggled to mimic dairy cheese. But the progress brought products that pass for the real thing to our tables.

Historically, vegan cheesemakers have not been able to come remotely close to creating products that mimic real cheese — no one was ever going to confuse rubbery, highly processed shreds of coconut oil and starch with mozzarella or cheddar. But that didn’t stop them from trying, and over their last several years, their efforts have created a vegan cheese landscape (...)

Alicia Kennedy
In Vegan Cheese Is Ready to Compete With Dairy. Is the World Ready to Eat It?

As they became tastier, plant-based cheeses now can play on the health benefits. Alternatives to dairy products are gaining more traction with health-conscious consumers looking to diet, avoid diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. Younger generations, especially in Europe and North America, concerned with the environment and animal welfare, are also more likely to consume plant-based dairy products. 

In 2020, the global vegan cheese market was valued at US$2.5 billion and anticipated to reach US$ 7 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 10%. With little surprise, North America and Europe offer plenty of options on shelves, while Latin America and Asia are still lagging behind. However, the soaring success of other alternative categories shows there’s potential for cheese, too.  

Let’s now take a look at some major and more local players across regions. 

Trends in the world

North America

The category is still relatively small and new but shows the same promising growth as the plant-based milk and meat category. With time, food innovation, and as retailers will make some more shelf space, the plant-based cheese market share will increase. In 2020, the US edition of Women’s Health magazine released an article listing up 80 brands of vegan cheese available on the market. 

Vegan cheese is a relatively new category when you compare it to alternatives to fluid milk, hence the difference in percentage of the overall market share. It’s important to note that a big change in growth occurred when retailers began merchandising all the milks together in the same section as they began to understand how to manage the category. Basically they replaced low-performing dairy items with nut, soy and pea-based milks. That hasn’t happened yet in vegan cheese.

Miyoko Schinner, answering to Brian Kateman in Plant-Based Cheese Is Finally Undergoing A Revolution

According to a survey from the company Formo and the University of Bath, published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 64.9% of Americans “would probably or definitely try animal-free dairy cheese.” While less than in Germany, the United Kingdom, or Brazil and India, that number still shows that a good portion of the consumers in the USA wouldn’t mind eating greener cheese at least once in their life. 

Miyoko’s Creamery 

Founded in 2014 in the United States, plant-based cheese pioneer Miyoko’s Creamery reached $50 million in annual revenues. Today, the company has a portfolio strong of over 25 plant milk cheese and butter made from a variety of ingredients - dairy-free milk, legumes, nuts, and vegetable oils. In June 2021, they launched plant-milk cheddar sticks made from oat and legumes. 

For a while now, parents have been craving more family-friendly cheese snacks, so we’re very excited to debut our one-of-a-kind Vegan Cheddar Sticks.

Miyoko Schinner, founder, and CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery.

Daiya Foods

We introduced Daiya Foods in our plant-based yogurt cycle. Now an industry leader in the region, Daiya is a Canada-based alt food company subsidiary of Otsuka Holding since 2017. Daiya Foods is notably known for its vegan cheese that tastes like traditional cheese. In March 2021, they launched a new shredded Mexican-style blend cheese product.

Kite Hill 

We also introduced Kite Hill in our previous cycle, as this plant-based ‘artisan’ brand offers a wide range of dairy-free products. Co-founded by Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible Foods, in 2010, Kite Hill is based in San Francisco. Carried by an innovative spirit, the company launched a new series of spreadable plant-based cheeses in April 2021.

Field Roast

Founded in 1997, Field Roast expanded its business from plant-based meat to plant-based cheese in 2015, when they launched their brand Chao. Today a major player in the sector, with US$ 38 million of annual revenue, Field Roast “teamed up with US restaurant chain Little Caesars to offer a pizza topped with plant-based pepperoni” in July 2021. Last year, they launched five new plant-based cheeses.

The Forager Project

While not new to the dairy-free category — the Forager Project started in 2013 with plant-based yogurt, the California-based vegan creamery launched their first plant-based cheese line-up in 2021

Parmela Creamery’s

California-based Parmela Creamery’s was founded in 2014 and makes a variety of cheese from cashew. In 2019, this artisanal plant-based cheese company raised US$ 1.25 Million in a Series Seed financing round to support innovation and brand development. 

Vtopian Artisan Cheeses

Founded in 2013 in Portland, Vtopian Artisan Cheeses products are available in specialty stores across the country. This vegan cheese ‘artisan’ hand makes cheddar, camembert, and brie from an organic cashew base. 

Grounded Foods

A new player in the category, Grounded Foods is an American vegan dairy start-up founded in 2019. In 2020, the start-up raised US$ 1.74 million in a seed funding round. Grounded Foods has focused on developing premium products mimicking the taste and texture of traditional cheese, to convince flexitarian consumers to embrace the shift. In March 2021, the start-up launched its cauliflower and hemp-based cheese line-up. 

We’re not vegan ourselves, but we recognize that there are enormous sustainability issues surrounding dairy production. Our goal is to help everyday people shift away from dairy, by creating something so insanely tasty you wouldn’t think twice about choosing it over cheddar.

CEO Veronica Fil in BREAKING: Grounded Foods’ Upcycled Cauliflower & Hemp Cheese Finally Arrives

South America

Food intolerance and allergies are driving the plant-based dairy market in the region, but “comparatively high prices of dairy alternatives pose a challenge to the market.” Upfield, which owns the brand Violife since 2021, plans to expand to Latin America

NooMoo

Mentioned in our Beyond Milk cycle, this Brazilian food innovation start-up founded in 2015 counts fermented plant-based cheeses in its portfolio. 

Europe

Europe, home of cheese and the best destination for cheese lovers has experienced an incredible boost in plant-based cheese sales over the past year. A 2021 report released by Smart Protein Project on the plant-based market size in Europe revealed that “plant-based cheese sales increasing 165%, 150% and 140% in the British, German and Dutch consumer markets respectively. (European Plant-Based Industry Grows 49%, Propelled By Record Demand).” In April 2021, another report focused on the German market that counts over 40 brands, revealed that this category “is taking off (...), with high growth rates.” 

Among other European countries, the United Kingdom and Germany really took the lead with a triple-digit growth (165% and 150% respectively) for the plant-based cheese category in the past couple of years. Overall, the category is growing across countries, as mainstream consumers are seeking healthy alternatives. Food innovation answers to their needs by offering alternatives for food products such as pizzas, burgers and other recipes typically based on cheese. 

Valsoia

Mentioned in our Happy Yogurt cycle, Italian Valsoia is a dairy alternative company founded in 1990. With soy-based food production for core business, they offer a large portfolio of non-dairy alternatives from yogurt to cheese, ice cream, desserts, spreads, and meat. Today, Valsoia is a market leader in the health food segment. An industry news article of May 2021 revealed that “in the first quarter of 2021 Valsoia recorded sales revenues of € 20.58 million (US$ 24m) compared to € 17.86 million (US$ 21m in the same period of 2020 (+ 15.2%) (...) Particularly significant is the growth of the markets in plant alternatives (...).” 

Violife by Arivia (Upfield)

With offices in Europe and North America and available in over 50 countries around the world, Violife made a long journey since its debut in the 90s. Originated from Greece, this animal-free dairy producer is specialized in vegan cheese made from coconut oil and plant-based starches and is a reference for vegan and vegetarian communities. In January 2020, Upfield Group B.V., the global leader of plant-based butter and spreads bought Arivia S.A, a leader in the plant-based cheese category and owner of brand Violife, in a € 500 million (US$ 588m) deal

In July 2021, Upfield launched Violife in the UAE as well as a special vegan BBQ pack including their products and vegan recipes to inspire their consumers. 

Veganz Group (Germany)

Founded in 2011 in Germany, Veganz is now a brand leader for plant-based food with a portfolio counting more than 160 products from sweets to snacks, and alternatives to meat, fish, and cheese. In 2020, they increased their revenues by 35% for the first half of the year and experienced overall growth of 11% compared to 2019. Later 2019, the company had secured distribution with WholeFoods in the UK and two months later, in early 2020, secured a distribution deal with 3,200 Lidl branches (Germany). In 2020, Veganz also founded its own cheese factory and already plans an expansion. 

Nurishh by Bel (France)

In 2020, the multinational dairy corporation Bel launched Nurishh, their first plant-based cheese line-up with mozzarella, cheddar, and camembert. Noting the growing demand for vegan cheese, the group’s other brands Babybel and Boursin also announced looking into vegan alternatives. In a PR statement, Bel stated that by “expanding its product offering beyond cheese products, Bel is furthering its mission to become a major player in the healthy snack market – diversifying through growth in dairy, fruit and plant-based products.”

Sheeze

Born in 1988 in the United Kingdom and originally named Scheeze, Sheeze grew to become a well-known vegan cheese brand since its first production in 1994. In 2003, Sheeze is bought by the innovative manufacturer, marketer, and distributor Bute Island Foods, which managed to propel the brand to overseas markets, through online sales, independent retailers, and major supermarket groups. In late April 2021, Canada-based Saputo, one of the top ten dairy processors in the world, announced the acquisition of Bute Island Foods

Cheese the Queen (Bulgaria)

Cheese the Queen is a plant-based food start-up launched in 2017 in Bulgaria. They offer hand-made vegan products that are gluten and soy-free, made from a unique probiotic mix (Lactobacillus Bulgaricus from Bulgaria), cashew, and spices. In June 2021, Bulgarian investment fund Neo Gravity announced backing up the start-up to help them increase their production and expand internationally. Their products are already available in neighboring countries Romania and Hungary. Since 2019, Cheese the Queen is part of ProVeg Incubator, an accelerator for plant-based cultured food startups. 

We’re innovating and changing the way the world sees (and enjoys) cheese. As a fresh new company with a fresh new future and functional foods mindset, we’re driven by passion and purpose – delivering the gift of wholesome food while solving the lactose-intolerance epidemic. All our production is organic certified and consists of only pure cashews, probiotic cultures, herbs & spices delivering flavour explosions and encouraging superior health. And as a bonus we have a long shelf life, because as our cheese ages it gets even better.

Vera Tinkova, Cheese the Queen founder in Cheese the Queen: “We are Creating a New Gourmet Culture!”

Stockeld Dreamery (prev. Noquo Foods) (Sweden)

Formerly named Noquo Foods, Stockeld Dreamery was founded in Stockholm in 2019 by tech entrepreneur Sorosh Tavakoli and food scientist Anja Leissner, to reinvent vegan foods, bringing tastier and more sustainable products to the market. In January 2020, the Swedish started had raised € 3.25 million (US$ 3.7 m) in seed funding After a successful R&D phase and rebranding, Stockeld Dreamery launched a 100% plant-based feta cheese made using fermented pea protein and fava beans in May 2021. 

Oceania

In the region, the category is very niche, limited to small local producers and some imported brands. In Australia, where the consumption of conventional cheese is on the rise, vegan cheese is also projected to grow strong in the next few years, as vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian are getting popular. 

Vegan cheese is one of our biggest growth categories of vegan food products in both range and volume (...)

Jess Bailey, director of vegan retailer The Cruelty Free Shop (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, and Brisbane) in Vegan cheese taste test (summer 2018)

Canada-based Daiya landed on the market in 2015, followed by Sheeze (UK) three years later. Then in 2019, it’s the turn of Miyoko’s Creamery (USA) to expand its distribution to the country. In summer 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, vegan cheese brand Grounded Foods (USA) announced plans to launch in Australia with for goal to establish a local independent supply chain. 

As for New Zealand, “demand for vegan options has skyrocketed [over the last few years].” The Kiwi island has its fair share of local brands, counting no less than 30 participants in the first Vegan Cheese Awards organized by The Vegan Society Aotearoa New Zealand

Our awards are showcasing the excellence in this niche, yet burgeoning market. These cheeses are healthy for you, healthy for our environment, and kind to animals — when vegan cheese tastes this good, why settle for less?
Vegan Society NZ media spokesperson Claire Insley
New Zealand Vegan Society Reveals Winners of Inaugural Vegan Cheese Awards

My Life Bio (Australia)

Australian plant-based food manufacturer MyLife has an impressive line-up of plant-based cheese products ranging from blocks, slices, shredded, grated, and even halloumi and feta cheese alternatives. Voted Australia’s number one vegan cheese in 2018, the company believes to be the first to have made a move in the category.  In 2020, MyLife launched a new line of products under its BioCheese brand. In 2021, MyLife BioCheese has been nominated for best vegan cheese in the Nourish Vegan Awards.

The Vegan Dairy (Australia)

A family-owned business, The Vegan Dairy was founded in 2018 in Melbourne. They have a growing range of products from soft vegan cheese to Feta, butter, and cream. 

Damona (Australia)

Small plant-based cheese business, Damona was founded in 2015 in Melbourne. 

Angel Food (New Zealand)

Founded in 2006, Angel Food makes allergy-friendly dairy-free cheese alternatives without gluten, nuts, or soy. By 2017, the company’s annual sales exceeded NZ$ 1 million (US$ 696,000). In 2019, the small start-up rapidly crowded-funded NZ$ 385,000 (US$ 268,000) to research and develop new products.

Savour (New Zealand)

Auckland-based and born from the experiment of founder Auda Finan’s kitchen, Savour is now a brand of dairy-free cheese made from nuts and probiotics. Auda built her business from the ground up and since then has won several awards for its cheeses. 

I'd been making kombucha for over a decade, and I'd made sauerkraut, and then I started experimenting with fermenting other things such as coconut flesh for yoghurt. Then I discovered this wonderful thing: fermenting nuts and making cheese out of them. So I thought, 'Great! I'll look into this.
Auda Finan, Savour founder

The Auckland mum making vegan cheese a viable option for Kiwi families

Green Vie Foods

Founded in 2016, Green Vie Foods is an Australian vegan cheesemaker with a growing line-up of products available at specialty supermarkets. 

Asia

Fueled by millennials embracing more sustainable diets and growing health concerns related to dairy products, the plant-based cheese market is expected to grow at a 23.9% CAGR during the forecast period (2020-2026)

India, Singapore, and Malaysia are notably offering growth opportunities for plant-based cheese manufacturers, while the demand in China seems to remain limited. In 2019, media platform Green Queen listed seven Asian start-ups in this sector: 

At the moment, it appears brands are mostly local and made from typical ingredients for the region — soy milk, coconut oil, cashew, tapioca starch, and spices. In 2021, Hong Kong saw its first vegan cheese shop open, Le Fromage by Ma. 

All of our hand-made cheeses are cashew and almond-based, allowing us to tap into a whole new world of flavors [that] could even fool the most devoted cheese connoisseurs. Other ingredients like salt, nutritional yeast, or herbs are added for flavor to give each wheel and type of cheese its own unique personality.

Le Fromage by Ma

Trends in Japan

In Japan, the category is nascent and its first steps, rather discreet. The first Japanese-developed plant-based cheese goes back to summer 2016 with Marin Food's My Melting Vegan Shred. Eight years before, the food manufacturing company had published an article named A New Era for the Cheese Industry. They explained that due to soaring costs, the dairy industry is focusing on cheese substitutes. Marin Food suggested a new generation of cheeses made from vegetable fats would come to the table, cutting down calories and cholesterol.

But it took several years before more choices came to the Japanese market, with a concentration of product launches in 2020 and 2021. Most products launches afterward took place in 2020 and 2021. Imported products are very limitedly available at international supermarkets, premium supermarkets, specialty stores, and e-commerce platforms.

Like meat, milk, and yogurt, the cheese alternative category is gaining traction, with for background a general growth of cheese consumption in the country. The market size was valued at US$ 43,6 million, with a 27% market share for the food alternative category (meat, yogurt, ice-cream) in 2019 according to the marketing research company TPC. The overall market for dairy alternatives (cheese, butter, etc.) shows a 20% growth rate.

Timeline

  • Marin Food launches a 99% cholesterol-free cheese "My Melting Vegan Shred", as well as a vegan soft in August 2016.

  • Leading tofu manufacturer in Japan, Sagamiya launched Beyond Tofu, a tofu-based series of products including cheese block and shred, in 2018.

  • In March 2020 Marin Food launches a new version of its vegan shred. That same year, Japanese major soy manufacturer Marusan Ai launched a plant-based shredded cheese. In October, retailer Aeon launched Vegetative, a plant-based range of their Top Valu private label including a shredded cheese manufactured by Marin Food.

  • In 2021, Marusan Ai launches a sliced version of its plant-based cheese. J-Oil Mills, a leading vegetable oil company tied up with Upfield, owner of the popular brand Violife. The company will start selling Violife cheese products for home and commercial use this autumn.

Worldwide sales of Violife doubled in the past year and the taste and texture of Violife cheese are similar to conventional cheese made from milk. In Japan, consumer tests have been successful and we are working to build a solid marketing strategy and deepen our efforts with distributors to launch the product this fall.

Hiroshi Otaka, Senior Managing Executive Officer and General Manager at J-Oil Mills J-Oil Mills to import and sell plant-based cheese brand "Violife" to enter the dairy alternative market

See you next Tuesday!

On the menu, feedback from Japanese consumers — are they melting for plant-based cheese or blocking them out?


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