‘Many firsts’: India’s Axia Foods to develop world’s first vegan butter and cheese made from almond

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Axia Foods to expand vegan protein bar offering (above) and plans vegan butter and cheese launch ©Axia Foods
Axia Foods to expand vegan protein bar offering (above) and plans vegan butter and cheese launch ©Axia Foods

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An Indian-based plant-based start-up which created the world’s first almond-cheese protein bars is now branching out into almond-based cheese and butter products, also claiming to be global firsts.

Developed under the Prochez brand, Axia Foods expects to launch the almond cheese and butter in 2021.

Currently, almond cheese and butter in the market are in the form of spreads. For Axia, its products are expected to replicate the taste and texture of dairy cheese and butter.

Almond cheese is no stranger for the firm which already makes its protein bars from cultured and aged almond cheese wrapped in dark chocolate, containing about 18g of protein per 150g serving.

Now available in strawberry and coffee flavours, it is expanding with a new fruit and matcha variation for January 2021.

Jasmine Shaikh, founder and CEO, said: “There are protein bars containing almond as a small ingredient, and almond milk, but there is no almond cheese or yoghurt​.

It is difficult to make yoghurt or cheese from almond because it has a briny texture, and it requires a long fermentation period​.” Fermentation increases the digestibility of protein and fat.

The firm started operations in late August 2019, selling plant-based yoghurts (Grenyogert brand) first, smoothies (Grenmylk brand) in December 2019 and most recently protein bars (Prochez brand) in November 2020.

From September 2019 to March 2020, the firm recorded about US$13,000 in sales just within Pune city.

Shaikh was inspired to establish the company after seeing her father’s dialysis plight.

With dialysis, protein is required for recovery and maintaining health. My father started with Greek yoghurt, cheese and nuts but he didn’t enjoy dairy and stopped eating​,” she explained.

So, she created a cashew nut yoghurt which he enjoyed, and decided to launch a business into plant-based yoghurt, smoothies and protein bars.

Yoghurt success

Axia Foods was also the first in India to create a plant-based probiotic protein yoghurt.

Its products are dairy and soy free, and high in protein from sources including coconut, oat, almond, and cashew.

For instance, its almond yoghurt contains 23g of protein per 150g serving, while its cashew yoghurt contains 23g protein. Other plant-based yoghurt brands tend to contain between 1 to 10g of protein.

The probiotic strains it uses include Streptococcus thermophilus​, Lactobacillus acidophilus​ and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp.lactis​.

Shaikh said its yoghurt contains between 2 to 2.5 109​ CFU/g of probiotics, although its viability depends on storage conditions, in India’s high temperature and humidity.

Besides being a good source of protein, nuts such as almond are also a rich source of poly and mono unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin B and E and zinc.

Axia products do not contain any preservatives and must be refrigerated. The yoghurt and protein bars have a 28-day shelf life at four to six degree Celsius, and the smoothies at 14-day.

Shaikh added that its products do not contain sweeteners, thickening agents like hydrocolloid to give texture or starch-based agents to increase the protein content, typically found in most plant-based products.

Axia Foods source all raw materials from India, except its probiotics which is sourced from Spain and France, and manufactures the products in its site in Pune.

Plant-based challenges

The yoghurt, smoothie and protein bars are sold on Axia’s website, as well as in supermarkets, wellness and organic stores in the Pune region.

Two months ago, the firm also partnered with Vvegano, a pan Indian e-commerce platform delivering solely vegan foods.

Despite achieving about US$13,000 in sales before COVID-19, sales became practically zero from April to July as it was forced to shut its production facility.

During this period, Shaikh and the team worked on increasing consumer uptake within India. One way was through cost orientation.

In India, people are always aware of plant-based diet, but when you call it vegan, it becomes an alien term for consumers, so we really want to change the way people are looking at vegan foods​.”

According to Shaikh, plant-based foods are not new in India, where about 60% of the population is vegetarian.

There are many brands in the market already offering vegan products, albeit at a higher cost. For instance, dairy milk cost around 60 to 200 Rupee (US$0.80-2.70), while plant-based milk cost around 300 to 350 Rupee (US$4-4.70).

Shaikh said: “India is all about the mass market, if we want to succeed, everybody should be able to afford​.”

While there are no almond-based yoghurts in India, cashew-based yoghurts in the market are priced around 150 Rupee (US$2) for 100-150g. However, these tend to contain only 1 to 1.5g of protein per serving. Axia’s cashew yoghurt contains 23g of protein per 150g.

In India, there is also a misconception of protein only for specific consumer groups like bodybuilders, “consumers are not aware that protein is an essential macronutrient for daily health maintenance​.”

For Axia Foods, its yoghurt (150g) cost around 150 to 195 Rupee (US$2-2.65), smoothies (200mL) at 95 Rupee (US$1.30) and Prochez (150g) at 140 Rupee (US$1.90).

People tend to look at our price range of 190 Rupee, and they think it cost too much, and won’t give it a try. If we can reduce the portion size and price, we can hopefully attract more consumers​.”

The firm is considering an expansion in UAE and UK in 2021, having received interest from other regions including Germany and US.

In UAE, nut-based foods are common in their everyday diet, and our products are just nuts in another format, which we think will fit their tastebuds​.”

People there are also understanding the importance of a good diet in maintaining health, rather than spending money on medicines​.”

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