Violife is a vegan, allergen-free alternative range to dairy cheese, and will be available in slices, blocks, grated and creamy in original, cheddar and mozzarella flavours.
The products are sold to food service as well as retail sectors across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Upfield’s brands including Flora, Rama, Blue Band and Proactiv. The Amsterdam headquartered firm sells to over 95 countries worldwide.
Last year, Upfield launched the Flora brand comprising a plant-based butter and cream product into UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Lebanon, which were available at major supermarket chains.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Reinier Weerman, Upfield’s general manager (MENA) told FoodNavigator-Asia sales have been growing month-on-month.
“Interestingly, the Covid-19 pandemic encouraged more consumers to switch to plant-based foods which helped to make our launch a successful one. With the pandemic, people became more health conscious and have been rethinking their eating habits and choices.
“The progressive growth in the demand for plant-based foods in the Middle East, particularly in the UAE, is also fueled by people’s growing concerns about environmental sustainability, and animal welfare.”
In Saudi Arabia, the largest market in the Middle East, YouGov research showed that the country is at a plant-based tipping point with 1 in 2 consumers (58%) now actively trying to eat more plant-based foods. This is being driven by consumers belief that it is better for their health (65%) and better for the planet (66%).
“We have also noticed that retailers and the food service sector are fast adapting and catering to a spike in the demand for plant-based foods which is great for the category.
“By introducing plant-based dishes in their menu, restaurants can scale their businesses by attracting more customers with specific dietary requirements, food allergies, intolerances, and dietary restrictions. Chefs can maintain their existing customers while attracting new ones,” Weerman said.
Violife’s vegan cheeses are free from dairy, preservatives, lactose, gluten, nuts, and soya.
Each product is based on coconut oil and fortified with B12, which play a vital role in the body's metabolism.
For instance, its cheddar cheese is made with water, coconut oil, starch, sunflower kernel grounded, mature cheddar flavour, lactic acid, olive extract, vitamin B12 for colour.
Similar to its dairy counterparts, Violife cheeses have the same performance and are suitable cooking and baking applications.
“In the Middle East, we are seeing traditional dairy categories including cheese being disrupted by plant-based alternatives. Plant based cheese is present in the Middle East but it is not yet as mainstream as it is in US, Canada and Europe,” Weerman said.
Upfield also has plans to launch Violife in APAC soon: “We are expanding our footprint beyond existing markets where we currently operate and look forward to presenting our innovative products to consumers where the demand for plant-based foods is high,” according to Tim Verbeek, president, Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific at Upfield.
Verbeek added plant-based dairy is an important area for innovation as there are many dairy categories to explore including spreads, cream, yoghurt, and milk.
“Categories like plant-based cheese and frozen desserts also provide a big opportunity to be explored,” he said.
Emerging ingredients in the plant-based dairy space include less explored vegetable oils such as shea olein, nuts, seeds, pulses, and pea proteins.
“As we strive for a more sustainable food system globally, the plant-based food industry is set to influence change in the way we eat. We expect to see many existing products recipes altered to make them more sustainable and to appeal to a growing consumer base comprised of flexitarians, vegans, vegetarians, and plant-based consumers.”