According to the firm’s Co-Founder Veronica Fil, hemp is a necessary ingredient despite the regulatory challenges associated with it, as attempts to make their cheeses without hemp turned out to be ‘not good enough’ to make the cut.
“We did try to formulate products without hemp seeds so as to enter markets where hemp is not yet legal such as Singapore and Malaysia, but the cheeses were just not good enough,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“The hemp seeds are really what gives the texture and mouthfeel. It also removes the need for us to use any coconut oil to add richness, [they are rich in omega fatty acids], and brings in a whole new nutritional profile that can replace nutrients consumers might fear losing if they don’t eat dairy-based foods such as vitamins and calcium.”
“The market gap currently is really for a plant-based cheese that tastes good enough to satisfy cravings. Most other options today take the route of making products just look like cheese or want to give a functional but less tasty option – we look to go beyond that to give an all-round sensory experience including the smell, flavour and texture of cheese.”
So instead of using common plant-based cheese production methods such as fermented nuts or coconut oil, all of Grounded’s cheeses are based off of their IP patented formulation of cauliflower and hemp, and processed differently to get different products, created by Fil’s husband and Grounded Co-Founder award-winning Australian chef Shaun Quade.
“The base is essentially fermented cauliflower blended with hemp seeds – believe it or not, the cauliflower is what gives the cheese its flavour,” said Fil.
“We use the entire cauliflower, leaves and all, and try to use bruised and rejected ones as upcycling vegetables is one of our goals.
“We’ve steered away from the fermented nuts route which is really expensive to manufacture, or the coconut oil route which tends to contain chemicals and additives, and really does not add any nutritional value for the consumer.”
Grounded has already created 35 different cheeses, but will focus on just three first for its October launch: Hemp seed cream cheese, Hemp seed marinated feta, and Cheese-free cheese sauce.
“The aim is to recreate all the different cheese styles globally one by one, but these three were selected as they were the biggest hits [from our early market sampling and informal online sales], plus they’re actually the least complicated to make,” said Fil.
“We’re launching in the United States first in October together with a large quick-service restaurant chain and a nationwide meal delivery kit platform, but moving forward we’re definitely looking to go back to Australia as we do have a lot of interest from retailers and LOIs (letter of intent) already in place.”
To make the different cheeses, Quade varies the processing variables such as fermentation times, ageing times, temperature, packing and the like, along with some natural flavourings such as garlic, mustard and onion, all of which gives the final products different textures and flavours.
Back to Australian roots eventually
Grounded has its roots in Australia, where Fil and Quade started the company before moving to West Hollywood in the United States in search of a wider consumer based, investment opportunities as well as for health reasons.
“Grounded is 100% committed to establishing independent local supply chains wherever we are, which is what we definitely want to go back and do in Australia,” said Fil.
“We source our ingredients locally – for example here in California there is 90% of the country’s cauliflower production as well as a big hemp industry for us to look to – and believe this can be similar in Australia too.
“This has become ever more important to us since COVID-19, as we saw many struggle with their supply chains where even one link missing such as an ingredient from China caused major issues for the whole supply chain, so we definitely will be building as local a supply chain as possible with local co-manufacturing, local workers, local suppliers and so on.”
Regulatory and clean challenges
Asia was initially one of Grounded’s prime growth targets until they realized that hemp was not legally approved for food usage, which they see as a ‘huge pity’.
“There’s definitely huge opportunities in the Asian market for a plant-based cheese like ours, and it’s unfortunate that hemp is not yet accepted for food usage there or it would definitely be our primary entry point,” said Fil.
“As it is, after the United States and Australia, we’re looking at markets [with less regulatory barriers] first such as Europe and Canada.”
More on the way
Fil also said that the launch of Grounded is just a prelude to an even bigger launch coming in 2021.
“We’re launching Grounded via foodservice and some smaller retailers this year, but this is just the prelude to an even bigger launch we’re planning for 2021 for our second line of plant-based cheeses,” she said.
“Grounded is what we view as our premium range, and the retail target for that would be places like Whole Foods eventually, but the range we’re launching next year would be specifically for retail, made for a younger, more general supermarket audience though still made the same way.”