Los Angeles-based vegan startup Grounded Foods began making its plant-based cheeses out of non-GMO hemp seeds and “ugly” cauliflowers last year. Now, the food tech is set to add three more products to its cheese offerings and is racing against coronavirus-related delays to bring its cruelty-free, food waste-fighting and vegan-friendly cheeses to consumers.
What makes the startup unique? Unlike many other plant-based cheese brands that use nuts as its base, Grounded Foods’ vegan cheeses are free from nuts, soy and gluten, and use hemp seeds and imperfect cauliflowers that would otherwise go to waste instead. The three new products that are slated to launch in early 2021 include Marinated Hemp Seed Goat Cheese, Hemp Seed Cream Cheese and Cheese-free Cheese Sauce.
The news comes on the heels of the young startup’s successful US$1.74 million seed funding this summer, which saw the company attract big alternative protein investment names like Stray Dog Capital and Veg Invest Trust, to kick start full-scale production, grow its shipping capabilities and ramp up distribution.
We had the opportunity to chat to co-founder and CEO of Grounded Foods Veronica Fil to ask her more about the upcoming launch and her story behind the startup- below the full interview.
GQ: Tell us more about where you will be launching the products. Are they going to be retailed or rolled out via foodservice?
VF: We’re launching direct-to-consumer. It was meant to happen in November, but like many startups, we’ve been massively constrained by covid delays – for instance, waiting for our equipment to arrive and be cleared through customs. Everything is progressing nicely, it’s just happening way slower than I think it would have prior to 2020! At this stage, I think a late January or early February launch will be more likely. As soon as the products are rolling off the line, we’ll open up online sales and will be shipping nationally throughout the U.S., and then retail sales will follow soon after that.
GQ: Let’s go back to your story. Where are you from and how did you start the brand with Shaun Quade?
VF: We’re both from Melbourne, Australia. Shaun and I met on a dating app several years ago after we noticed we were a 99% match. The algorithm is clearly pretty accurate, because we immediately went into business together and got married after that!
GQ: How big is your team and where in California do you produce your cheeses?
VF: Our core team is made up of five people, including myself and Shaun. We’re now manufacturing the products at a plant-based facility, around an hour away from us in Los Angeles.
GQ: How do you source your “ugly” cauliflowers to make your vegan cheese?
We’re passionate about using local, sustainable ingredients, and for us, that means utilising imperfect produce – such as the cauliflower that can’t be sold to supermarkets. 90% of U.S. cauliflower is grown in California, which is one of the reasons why we’re here! We’re always on the lookout for local suppliers and farmers to work with, and we’re still pretty new to the States so building those relationships has been a huge priority for us.
GQ: Are there any plans to fundraise at this stage?
VF: We’re not actively fundraising at the moment, but we’ll probably look at raising again in the first half of 2021.
GQ: What’s your ultimate mission? What keeps you going on the hard days?
VF: Our ultimate mission is to genuinely shift consumer behaviour in a meaningful way – by creating products that are so novel and delicious and accessible, that people don’t even think about the fact that they’re not eating dairy. If the product isn’t insanely tasty, everyday people just won’t buy it as an alternative to traditional dairy.
That’s one side of the equation. But also, we want to be part of the solution – not contributing to the problem that’s occurring in our existing food system. So we’re hell bent on using environmentally resilient and local ingredients as well, not just importing whatever is cheapest or easiest.
All images courtesy of Grounded Foods.