Big cheese dreams: Australian plant-based firm banks on fresh, premium focus for business growth
Although the firm is not the first in the country to produce vegan cheeses, its focus is on the premium line and not regular sliced or shredded cheeses.
“There aren’t many other premium vegan cheese products like us in the market today, and this is a gap we specifically aim to fill,” Hello Friend Foods Co-Founder Bree Gaudette told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“One of the main differences is that we make a fresh product – most others use fermentation or cultured nuts to get their plant-based cheese, but we do it fresh so no fermentation, but more ageing.
“Because of this approach, a lot of time and care is needed to make the products , and a lot more effort goes into the crafting and producing of these, making them much more premium and high quality than regular plant-based cheeses.”
Hello Friend Foods’ cheeses currently use soy as the main ingredient, but the team is also exploring various different plant-based bases that can bring that dairy-like texture to the products.
“We’re looking at many different options like seeds, nuts, legumes, cauliflower, potatoes – there’s a trend towards using vegetables now too, so we’re exploring that as well,” the firm’s other Co-Founder Matthew Ronalds told us.
“Our products are currently in a lot of organic and specialty food stores as well as supermarkets like IGA, and the next step would be to look at the bigger retail names like Woolworths and Coles.
“There’s a time aspect to that though, every year they look at new products and do a review on which to accept and range – so we’re definitely going to throw our hat into the ring when the next round comes up, the products are ready for that.”
Hello Friend Foods also recently closed a crowdfunding round where they walked away with around A$670,000, an outcome that the team is thrilled with.
“We chose the crowdfunding route as we wanted our surrounding community to join our journey and grow together with us, and we’re happy that the vast majority of investors from this round are actually from the community and our consumers,” said Ronalds.
Gaudette added that part of the funds will be going into finding a way to extend the shelf life of the cheeses, which is currently too short to think of transporting very long distances.
“We definitely want to look closely at expanding the shelf life so that we will be able to ready for exports as soon as we can manage it,” she said.
“There aren’t any specific countries in mind yet, but I would say that the South East Asian region will definitely be our first target once the cheeses are export-ready, and we have a good line with delivery partners and so on.
“Along this line, the funds will also help us to hire a food technologist or two – so far it’s just been us tinkering around with the recipes, but we really want to see how the product range can expand and grow when we get in some professional help.”
Hello Friend Food currently sells three cheese products: The first plant-based haloumi in Australia (RRP A$15 / US$10.94 for 200g), mozzarella (A$14 / US$10.21 for 200g) and cheese sauce (A$18 / US$13.13 for 400g).
Manufacturing and NPD
At present, the firm is co-leasing a factory space to manufacture its cheeses but intends to move to contract manufacturing as a next step.
“Contract manufacturing will allow us to scale properly, and also to lower costs, which will definitely help to bring costs down and hit better consumer price points,” said Gaudette.
“So part of the funds will also go into that, and we’ll also be investing into switching to plastic-free packaging soon, which is a big thing for us.”
Ronalds added that the plastic-free packaging that the firm will be using for all its products is also plant-based which is ‘looks and acts like plastic, but is made of plant ingredients like potato, rice and corn, and will break down in compost’.
Looking ahead, it will be back to the drawing board for the team to look at product expansion for new cheeses such as cheddar, which Gaudette described as ‘not yet having a decent vegan version available on the market’.