Will Kraft Consumers Buy Its Vegan ‘Not Cheese’?

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Beginning next month, Kraft Heinz will roll out its new vegan cheese and mayonnaise in a test run at 30 Giant Eagle stores across Cleveland. It’ll expand the products nationally by the end of next year. But are mainstream cheese consumers ready?

The new launch is part of the Kraft Heinz partnership with NotCo, the Chilean Jeff Bezos-backed unicorn making plant-based meat and dairy products using AI tech dubbed Giuseppe. The companies announced they were joining forces earlier this year.

The initial products include three cheese slices: American, provolone, and cheddar, as well as dairy-free mayonnaise.

Not Cheese

Kraft Heinz Chief Executive Officer Miguel Patricio told Bloomberg the joint venture is a way to join the dairy-free category without major investments into research or development. Kraft rolled out a vegan version of its iconic blue box Mac & Cheese in Australia to acclaim last year.

“Sometimes to be more effective and more efficient you have to bring partners to help you on the journey,” he said.

Kraft Heinz and NotCo have signed a joint venture agreement earlier this year

But the launch announcement comes as U.S. sales of plant-based products have stalled at retail. Adding to the category decline, McDonald’s pulled its test of the Beyond Meat McPlant burger from 600 U.S. stores earlier this year. JBS recently shut down its plant-based division and both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have laid off staff due in large part to declining sales.

The dairy-free category, though, has long been the predominant driver of the plant-based sector, with oat milk leading the category growth for fluid milk. But vegan cheese sales have also declined along with the drop in vegan meat; recent sales data for the 52 weeks ending October 2, saw vegan cheese down ten percent by volume.

Vegan cheese adoption

Part of that is inflation related but part of it may come down to vegan cheese itself; the category has long struggled to gain a stronghold with conventional dairy eaters. Like bacon, cheese fans are particular about taste and texture, and many of the current vegan cheese offerings have missed the mark for the otherwise open-minded flexitarian consumer.

General Mills Brand Bold Cultr Debuts As First Major U.S. Precision Fermentation Cheese Launch
General Mills’ Bold Cultr precision fermentation cheese

Companies like Perfect Day, which is leveraging microbial fermentation to reproduce dairy proteins, have seen much success in jumping that hurdle. General Mills launched a cream cheese made with Perfect Day’s precision fermentation whey under the label Bold Cultr last year. But it’s yet to see widespread interest from mainstream shoppers.

Still, the demand for lactose-free products, particularly among Black and Asian populations where lactose intolerance risks can be as high as 90 percent, makes the category ripe for experimentation.

Kraft says the new Not Cheese slices, which are made with coconut oil, modified corn starch, and chickpea protein, mimic the taste, texture, and color of its iconic dairy singles. Pricing has not yet been set for the new items.

Lead image NotCo.


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