The cash injection will enable Seattle-based GOOD PLANeT - a relative newcomer in the plant-based cheese space, launching in foodservice and industrial markets in late 2018, and in retail in early 2019 - to build its team and support its rapid growth, said founder and CEO David Israel.
Manufactured in Greece at a partner facility using a similar process to that used to make dairy cheese analogs used on some pizzas, GOOD PLANeT is designed to deliver the taste, melt, and texture of dairy cheese, said Israel, who felt there was white space in the market for allergen-friendly products with a short ingredients list (water, coconut oil, modified starch and seasoning) and mainstream branding.
"We've started on the coasts and we're building our way into the middle of the country," said Israel, who founded snacks brands POP! Gourmet Foods and BranchOut.
"What's exciting is that we're doing well in a wide range of retailers from Costco and Walmart to Bristol Farms and Mollie Stone's. We also partnered with White Castle for the Impossible Burger, and we're supplying some major CPG companies, so it's really exploding. We're having record sales in Walmart, and they've already doubled our store count."
'We're having record sales in Walmart'
While many of the more artisanal nut-based cheeses work well on cheese boards, consumers looking for plant-based cheese that's going to work on a pizza, grilled cheese sandwich or in a plant-based cheeseburger, are looking for specific functionality, said Israel.
“It has to melt right. Some of the plant-based cheeses can melt but they turn into transparent blah, some don't melt, and some turn into sticky gooey stuff. The products are getting better all the time, and there are some great products out there now, but we felt there was a gap in the market."
As for COVID-19, there were some frustrating moments in the early days of the pandemic where products that weren't top priorities for retailers were not getting through their warehouses, said Israel.
"So, our products were flying off the shelves, retailers were re-ordering them and it was getting to the retailer distribution center and they were focused on restocking toilet paper and other essential products first. But, those thing are flushed out now.
"Foodservice just dried up, but in other places our sales have gone through the roof, so it really made up for it in the short-term. But foodservice will come back. In the meantime, we've been focusing on direct to consumer, meal kits, meal subscription companies and other places where we can really drive business."
While plant-based cheese only accounts for about 1% of the retail cheese market (whereas plant-based milk, yogurt, and creamers account for 14%, 4% and 5% of their markets respectively), sales grew 18% in 2019 to about $190m in measured channels in 2019, according to SPINS data.
But there are also significant growth opportunities for plant-based cheese in pizzas, ready meals and other CPG products, as well as the foodservice market, which is increasingly looking for vegan accompaniments (eggs, cheese etc) to its fast-growing roster of plant-based burgers, sausages, and tacos, said GOOD PLANeT founder David Israel.
That said, there are still barriers to overcome for plant-based cheese, which many consumers tried a few years ago, didn't enjoy, and haven't tried since, claimed Israel.
"People will say, 'I tried vegan cheese one time and it was disgusting; I don't like plant-based cheese.' But that's a huge opportunity for us, as when people try our product, we win."
Ingredients (GOOD PLANeT plant-based Cheddar shreds): Filtered water, coconut oil, food starch-modified (potato & tapioca), sea salt, calcium citrate, cheddar flavor (vegan sources), sorbic acid and/or olive extract, beta carotene and paprika extract