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Dutch bean-based plant-based cheese startup Willicroft has closed its pre-seed funding round, securing €2 million. The round was led by PINC and Rockstart with Döhler and Feast Ventures participating. Funding has been raised to support international market entry. The U.K., Germany and Nordic European regions have been specifically earmarked.
Certified B Corp Willicroft is an alternative dairy company with a twist. Originally founded as a conventional dairy setup, in 1957, it was reinvented by the founder’s grandson and relaunched in 2018. The startup is focussed on creating ‘planet-proof’ cheese from beans, putting environmental credentials front and centre of all new developments.
“Our new investor group can help open up a number of new markets whilst also fast-tracking our products’ continued evolution,” said Willicroft’s co-founder and CEO Brad Vanstone, speaking about the raise.
Cheese: the lesser-considered climate change contributor
Red and processed meats are known to be bad for the planet and human health. Widely discussed for being the largest emissions generators out of all animal products, they are followed by a potentially surprising food: cheese. Educating consumers about the environmental footprint of conventional dairy is considered vital if the $77.6 billion industry is going to be superseded.
Cheese creates 13.5 kilos of CO2 equivalent for every consumable kilo produced. It is worse than pork, poultry and salmon, in terms of environmental impact. The main contributing factor is the amount of milk required, which brings dairy livestock into the equation. Adding cattle methane emissions exacerbates the problem further still.
Consumers remain largely uninformed about the impact of conventional dairy. A CAST survey from 2020 revealed that 70 percent of people agree with a reduction in meat intake. Comparatively, 54 percent extended the same thought to dairy.
Eco-friendly cheese going global
“Our new bean-based range produces up to 5 times less CO2 than the dairy alternatives it’s replacing,” said Vanstone. “With this new raise locked in we’ll be bringing our delicious, beautifully branded range of plant-based cheeses to three new markets: the UK, Germany and the Nordics, bringing in senior hires and continuing on our quest to become the world’s first net-positive plant-based cheese company.
Already available in limited locations in the U.K., Willicroft is looking to push distribution wider, while entering entirely new markets within Europe. To date, the products have been available in the Netherlands and Belgium. Product ranges include a parmesan alternative, cheese sauce, a Greek-style recipe and, most recently, a fondue analogue was added. This latest inclusion was the result of a partnership with Israel’s Innovopro, a chickpea protein specialist.
“Willicroft is taking plant-based dairy alternatives to the next level. Alongside making delicious products (I’ve tasted several, I recommend them!), they are helping farmers to transition to sustainable production by enabling a local supply chain without the need for monocropping or highly processed ingredients,” said Mark Durno, managing partner at Rockstart. “They have spent the last years understanding their consumers and their footprint, and the next phase will be to put those learnings to scale.”
Vegan cheese as a growing segment
The plant-based cheese market has been identified as having a CAGR of 12-15 percent between 2015-2020. Predictions cite this trajectory as likely to continue. As a result, more companies are looking to break in ahead of industry overcrowding. At the same time, existing major players are seeking to stay true to their roots.
In February, Miyoko’s Creamery moved to take its shreds and slices out of the company portfolio. The reason given was that the products were a ‘dumbing down’ of the cheeses that Miyoko’s usually creates. The move was considered brave, considering the commercial popularity f the items. Founder Miyoko Schinner remained steadfast, however, stating that she wanted to ‘honour the art of cheesemaking’.
Lead photo by Willicroft of a vegan cauliflower cheese.