Bel Group may be 150 years old, but the French cheese giant is showing once again that it’s not stuck in the past.
Bel is the first cheesemaker to use Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy proteins in a product, launching Nurishh Incredible Dairy cream cheese spread on Jan. 1, 2023.
The company also is launching a plant-based version of its iconic The Laughing Cow cheese wedges at Whole Foods stores nationwide, which is the final piece of Bel’s commitment to launch a plant-based version of every one of its well-known cheese brands.
Florian Decaux, plant-based acceleration director for Bel Brands USA, said that the company’s innovative spirit is part and parcel of its “For All, For Good” corporate identity. Bel works to create the kinds of products that serve its consumers needs — in terms of taste, ingredients and sustainability. And to get there, he said, Bel partners with innovators such as Perfect Day.
“We believe that together we can really leverage innovative technology to develop a first-of-its-kind product that can deliver — and even exceed [traditional cheeses] — because it's what we always do at Bel: [Shift] the consumer expectation of what alternative dairy and dairy-alternative cheese can be,” Decaux said.
Nurishh Incredible Dairy Spread is the first product with dairy under the Nurishh brand, which is devoted to plant-based options. But because the product uses Perfect Day’s whey proteins, which are created through precision fermentation and not by animals, it is more sustainable than traditional dairy cheese. The product is also lactose-free.
Decaux said Bel chose to make a cream cheese with Perfect Day’s proteins because whey performs best in spreadable applications. Nurishh Incredible Dairy has a texture and taste like traditional cream cheese, and Decaux said that consumers had been looking for animal-free options.
Nurishh Incredible Dairy Spread will launch at Kroger stores next year in Original, Strawberry and Chive & Onion.
After about two years of R&D work, Bel also is launching The Laughing Cow Plant-Based wedges. The main ingredient in this product is almond milk. Decaux called the product a testimony to Bel’s long experience in the cheesemaking space, since the company worked hard to replicate the creamy and tangy taste of the brand’s classic wedges. The product is available in Garlic & Herb and Original varieties.
While Bel operates in many countries and is an especially big player in the European cheese market, it is debuting the plant-based Laughing Cow in the United States. Decaux said that a lot of work went into making the cheese meet the taste needs of U.S. consumers.
Decaux said sales for Bel’s plant-based products have exceeded expectations. On-shelf interest from retailers is double Bel’s predictions, he said, and Bel’s consumer trial rates are exceeding the rest of the category.
Bel does have quite a bit more in the way of innovation coming in the future, Decaux said. In September, Bel Group purchased an equity stake in Standing Ovation, a French company using precision fermentation to make animal-free casein. In October, Bel announced an exclusive partnership for cheese applications with Standing Ovation. Casein proteins, which naturally occur in milk, give cheese its trademark stretch.
Standing Ovation does not have any products that have received regulatory approval yet. The company said some of its 12 million euro ($11.8 million) Series A round, which closed in September, would be used to initiate the regulatory process.
When the partnership between Bel and Standing Ovation was announced, the startup’s co-founders Frédéric Pâques and Romain Chayot said in a statement their goal was “to see the first products arrive on the market quickly, with a very wide distribution.”
Decaux could not provide any additional details about what was coming next from the partnership but added that it stems from consumers’ desire to have cheese made without animals.
Bel is also working with protein ingredient company Superbrewed Food to make cheese products with the company’s signature ingredient.
Superbrewed’s ingredient is designed to make plant protein a more efficient and wholesome source of nutrition, and presents postbiotic benefits. Decaux did not say when any products may launch from the Superbrewed partnership, though the company has said its proteins will be available in the first half of 2023.
Bel will continue to work with partners to create innovative products to “shake a little bit” the rest of the cheese segment, Decaux said. But the company isn’t just trying to do things that are different for the sake of doing them.
“It's not about dairy. It’s not about plant-based. It's not about alternative offerings,” Decaux said. “It's about providing better food for our consumers.”