New, yet established
"We are arguably late to the market, Daiya was the first and they’ve been around for a long time. We’re playing a little bit of catch up, but we’re positioned very well and we have the supply chain necessary to substantiate our growth, which is significant," Paul Pendergast, president of Arivia USA, who is leading the Violife's expansion across the US.
While the brand may be just starting to build its brand image with US consumers, Violife is the No. 1 selling brand of plant-based cheese in every other market that's in except the US, according to Pendergast.
Violife was founded in the '90s in Greece as plant-based alternative to cheese that could be eaten during Greek Orthodox fasting days when animal proteins are off limits.
Violife entered the US market roughly five years ago through an import business with limited reach.
"The reality is we really haven’t been in the US for more than a year from a broad reach standpoint. It was a niche item, vegans knew about us, it was hard to get. Now, we are growing by leaps and bounds," said Pendergast. "When we decided we wanted to make Violife a global brand and leader in the industry we knew that we couldn’t do it without having a robust US market and sales organization that could support that market."
Pendergast was hired roughly four months ago to take over the business from the importers and actively pursue retail and foodservice distribution.
Violife can now be found in Whole Foods and Publix stores as well as a growing number of smaller regional chains with plans to expand distribution even more.
"Our core offerings that we’re building our business on is mozzarella and shredded cheddar cheese and we have three very strong sliced products. We also have a very unique offering in our feta block, where there’s not a lot of competition."
Violife has also reformulated and repackaged its plant-based cream cheese SKUs and will be relaunching three varieties: original, cheddar cream cheese, and herb & garlic.
Optimizing for at-home use
Violife's main ingredient is a highly-refined coconut oil combined with other plant-based starches.
"We like to joke that anybody can get the ingredients and throw it in a pot and make cheese, but it’s our proprietary equipment, our food technicians, water quality, etc., that make up the differentiation between the other nut based products that are out there," said Pendergast.
A key to a lot of this is at at-home use and functionality in the kitchen. All of the Violife products look, smell, feel, taste, and melt like dairy cheese, according to Pendergast.
Pendergast has hired a dedicated sales team to target the foodservice channel, an untapped opportunity for Violife.
"The one big opportunity we have is getting into the popularity of the Beyond Meats of the world. It has more to do with building the brand within those organizations. We have hired a sales team and they’re targeting the large food service pizza chains, restaurant chains, breakfast chains to try to get our products into their vegan or gluten free offerings," he said.