Citing data commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association from Nielsen, Nuttin Ordinary’s Founder and CEO Josh Velasquez said sales of plant based foods grew 20% to reach $3.3 billion in the 52 weeks ending in June 2018, and of that sales of plant-based cheese is up 43% to $124 million.
“I feel like this is just the beginning of where this industry is going,” he told FoodNavigator-US, noting that many of the consumers who buy Nuttin Ordinary’s cashew cheese do not follow a strict plant-based diet – illustrating the potential for the brand to resonate with all types of shoppers.
“When I first started this company and was out demoing the product myself, I would see flexitarians and omnivores try it, and then grab it and put it in their carts with other traditional dairy,” he said.
Based on the company’s sales data, he added, many buyers are baby boomers who are “looking for more balance in their diet,” and millennials who “are looking for new tastes and textures – and Nuttin Ordinary hits both of those.”
He explained that Nuttin Ordinary’s cashew cheese delivers a smooth texture and mouth-feel akin to traditional cream cheese or goat cheese, making it versatile to use as a cheese spread on pizza, a substitute for sour cream on a baked potato, a flavor enhancer for savory oatmeal or a fast queso dip when blended with salsa.
In addition, he said, the brand meets consumer demand for taste with four bold flavors of cashew cheeses including spicy, cracked pepper, Italian herb and original.
The cheese does not melt the way some competing products promise, but Velasquez actually sees this as a positive attribute rather than a drawback because it underscores the products’ simple, clean ingredient deck.
“To make a plant-based cheese melt, you have to add thickeners, oils and gums, and we stayed away from that and tried to keep our products as clean and natural as possible” with only five base ingredients, including a proprietary probiotic blend, Velasquez said.
The young company’s popularity and fast sales growth have been a bit of a double edged sword.
“We are fortunate that we have been part of an explosive growth category because that has meant explosive growth for our company, but really our main challenge has been scaling to meet demand while not compromising the quality of our product, and we have been bumping up against the max capacity of our current facility,” Velasquez said.
To fully seize the potential offered by consumer interest in the company’s cashew cheeses and the non-dairy cheese category in general, Nuttin Ordinary is expanding from the 750 square-foot kitchen where it started into a new 8,000 square-foot facility in Peterborough, NH.
“This new plant will allow us to increase production by a minimum of four times” as soon as day one, and it will offer plenty of room to grow, Velasquez said.
A new facility will quadruple production potential
While the new facility ramps up through 2019, the company will focus on growing its accounts on the East Coast with plans to expand regionally South through the Mid-Atlantic and then West with a goal of distributing nationally by 2020.
As the company scales it will focus first on natural and specialty stores, but Velasquez says he sees significant potential in mainstream grocery stores as well.
“From our perspective, when we walk into what might be considered a conventional grocery store, the lines are blurring with natural. So, we are looking forward to doing some testing in conventional supermarkets, and some of the recent stores that have picked us up have been more traditional,” Velasquez said.
However, he tempered his optimism with the acknowledgement that there may need to be “a little bit of education for their clients” about what to expect from and how to use non-dairy cheese.
The company’s packaging already is well positioned for conventional markets with bright colors and photos of the key flavor ingredients.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We want to be a fun brand, and this is the first design we rolled out and have been using ever since,” Velasquez said. But, he added, “we are growing up a little bit now, and are in the middle of rebrand, which will roll out in the middle of next year.”
New products on the horizon
The company also plans to expand into food service with single-serve packets that will allow consumers at cafes and cafeterias to enjoy their spread on bagels just as their friends who eat dairy enjoy cream cheese.
The single-serve packets also will lower the barrier to trial for consumers who may be unfamiliar with non-dairy cheese. The lower price point and single-use means they can try the product “and figure out if it is something for them” without paying for a full six-ounce container, which retails for a suggested price of $5.99 to $7.99, he said.
In addition, the company plans to expand at food service and retail its line of cashew cheese stuffed ravioli. Nuttin Ordinary currently markets one flavor, but hopes to launch several more in the coming year.