“I think the biggest challenge right now in our industry is education; people are scared to try new products, and they also want to know why should I leave my dairy product and try cashew cheese,” founder and CEO Josh Velasquez told FoodNavigator-USA at the Winter Fancy Food Show last month.
But it’s not a competition, says Velasquez, who says Nuttin Ordinary products (MSRP $5.99) appeal to dairy cheese lovers and dairy-avoiders alike, and can bring incremental growth to retailers.
“I say, Hey, give it a shot, our cashew cheese is very different from other competitors out there, we like to keep things very clean and simple, and we’re not labeling it as a Cheddar, Swiss or Mozz… [the labels instead focus on flavor: plain, spicy, cracked pepper, Italian herb] We’re very focused on taste and texture, but we’re not trying to emulate dairy products [for example, while its cheese will soften, it won't melt], and I think that separates us from many of our competitors.”
That said, standing out in the crowd is a challenge in a market that’s become considerably more competitive than it was when Velasquez and COO Adam Hamilton first started making cashew cheese in a test facility in Velasquez’s parents’ basement in late 2013, when most brands (eg. Daiya, Follow Your Heart) were using a combination of oils, starches and gums to try and recreate the taste, texture, and melting properties of dairy cheeses such as Cheddar and Mozzarella, and nut-based cheese was something of a novelty.
'We're now looking to raise $3-4m'
This first wave was rapidly followed by a second wave of brands (Miyoko’s, Kite Hill, Treeline, Culcherd) making more artisanal cultured nut products; while the next generation of products has experimented with a range of ingredients from nuts and fermented tofu to legumes.
“Our product is made with cashews, cultured with probiotics, with no added oils, thickeners, or gums, so it’s a really clean product, which is rare in the dairy alternative cheese market,” claimed Velasquez. “We also have a proprietary probiotic blend that makes us stick out from our competitors”
As for placement in store, Nuttin Ordinary began in the dips and salsas aisle, but is now found more typically in retailers' emerging plant-based cheese sets, said Velasquez, who recently moved to an 8,000 sq ft new manufacturing plant in Peterborough New Hampshire after closing a seed round, and is now seeking an additional $3-4m to boost distribution well beyond its current base in the Northeast (Wegmans, Market Basket, Whole Foods in New England, and 100+ independent stores).
Sales of plant-based cheese grew 19% in the year to April 2019,* with a growing number of players now competing for shelf space, from brands using starches and oils such as Daiya Foods, Follow Your Heart, Violife, So Delicious and Go Veggie; to brands such as Miyoko’s Creamery, Kite Hill, Treeline, Nuts for Cheese and Culcherd making cultured nut products; to Field Roast (Chao), which combines fermented tofu with oils and starches; and Pulse Kitchen, which combines nuts and pulses.
* SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINSscan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI), 52 weeks ending April 21, 2019. (Data commissioned by the Good Food Institute.)