Targeting non-vegans: UAE’s Freakin’ Healthy expands into ready-to-eat category with clean label vegan cheese spread
Established in 2018, the firm is best known for its clean label, vegan and healthy chocolate bars, superfood bars and protein balls, after which it launched a vegan meal subscription service in 2020.
The release of the cheese spread, which comes in four flavours, marks its decision to expand the customer base and product portfolio under the ready-to-eat category.
“Our objective is to introduce more people to clean plant-based foods because a lot of consumers still don't understand the difference between clean plant-based and junk plant-based foods. The perception now is that if they go vegan or plant-based, it's automatically healthier, which is wrong because these products can actually be worse,” according to Roy Koyess, founder and CEO of Freakin’ Healthy.
Its cheese spread is said to be UAE’S first locally-produced clean-label vegan cheese.
Even though the firm is the first in the region, Koyess admitted it can be challenging to enter the market since there are already plant-based cheese spreads available, just not clean label ones.
The cheese is made with cashews unlike most products which are coconut-based. “Cashew is a bit more expensive (than coconut), but what we found was that cashew provides the creaminess and smoothness that is essential for spreadable cheese.
“We also don’t use any palm oil, starch, coconut oil, emulsifiers, and our cheese is sugar, preservative, gluten, dairy and lactose-free.”
Other plant-based cheese manufacturers add these additives for texture or as a preservative.
To prevent microbial growth and spoilage, Freakin’ Healthy uses high pressure packaging, a method where the product goes under pressure and cold water to preserve nutrients but also kill bacteria. This is unlike pasteurisation where heat is involved.
To ferment the cheese, probiotics are used.
Koyess said the spread can be eaten on toast traditionally or can be used in cooking or act as a topping as well.
R&D for the product took six months.
Koyess said the goal is to target not only the plant-based or vegan consumers, but also the people who are not.
“We want to cater to the non-vegetarians and non-vegans as well, and the only way to convince them to try or even move over to our plant-based cheeses is to meet a certain standard that they're used to, in terms of texture, flavour, look and feel.”
He added that ongoing R&D is in the works to develop more better-for-you products. “We're not going to be the first to enter any category like plant-based eggs, but we want to be cleaner than what's already available.”
This year, Freakin’ Healthy is expanding into the US: “In the next two to three months, we’re going to start kicking off the launches in Florida, California, and New York. There’s a lot of groundwork last year in identifying the right partners in distribution and retail, so this year is the year to gain more traction in the US market for Freakin’ Healthy.”
The firm recorded 300% year-on-year growth, similar trajectory to the year before.
“The majority of our growth came from expanding the reach in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE, as well as from new product launches. A few years ago, we had 15 SKUs but now we have over 60,” Koyess said.