- Danone's plant-based So Delicious Dairy Free brand has expanded its offerings to include shredded and sliced cheeses, as well as creamy spreads. The shreds and slices are available at some stores nationwide, including Target, Walmart, HEB, Hy-Vee, Hannaford, Market Basket, Fresh Thyme and Stop & Shop, according to an email from Danone. The spreads launch in March.
- The new products are dairy, gluten and soy-free and are Non-GMO Project Verified, according to the brand's website and information from Danone. The shreds come in Mexican, Cheddar and Mozzarella styles. The slices are available in American and Cheddar styles, and the spreads are in Creamy Original and Chive & Onion styles.
- Plant-based cheese is a high-growth area in the segment. According to SPINS statistics published by the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based cheese totaled more than $189 million in 2019, which is the last full year for which statistics are available. Sales growth has been in the double digits each of the last three years.
Plant-based cheese has gone from an oily and oddly textured mess to a force in the segment. Consumers wanting cheese without dairy now have a choice between several styles of plant-based options made by an array of companies. Manufacturers are now making plant-based cheeses that can be sliced, spread, melted and stretched, and that look much like their conventional equivalents.
Today's challenge is convincing consumers that plant-based cheese will taste and perform as expected. Considering the checkered past of plant-based cheese alternatives, it's a daunting task. According to statistics cited by Danone, more than half of all U.S. consumers are trying to incorporate more plant-based food into their diets, but only one in 10 eat dairy-free cheese. In fact, 22% of prospective dairy-free cheese buyers haven't tried the product and assume it won't taste good, the company stated.
It makes sense that So Delicious would choose cheese as the next frontier to conquer. The brand, which has been around since 1987, has won over consumers with its plant-based frozen desserts, dairy alternative beverages and yogurts for more than three decades. The former WhiteWave Foods bought So Delicious in 2014. It became a Danone brand when the European dairy product giant bought WhiteWave in 2017.
So Delicious is the newest entrant in what's getting to be a crowded category. Once dominated by stalwart brands such as Follow Your Heart, the category has seen newer competitors including Daiya, Kite Hill and Miyoko's Creamery in recent years.
But 2020 was especially active for plant-based cheese developments. Tofurky debuted a plant-based cheese brand called Moocho. Good Planet, which launched in 2018, received $12 million in funding. French cheesemaker Bel Group launched a plant-based version of its spreadable Boursin cheese. And data science group Climax Foods raised $7.5 million to fuel artificial intelligence research to improve the taste of plant-based food, starting with cheese.
Other manufacturers are also talking about getting in the plant-based cheese space. Ryan Riddle, Nestlé USA's senior R&D specialist of plant-based meal solutions, said in an interview last year that plant-based cheese was "going to be the next big thing" because people eat a lot of cheese.
With its expertise in both dairy and plant-based food, Danone has a relatively easy slide into the cheese category. While the company only has one other cheese brand — Horizon Organic — it knows the dairy and alternative product market better than most other manufacturers. In 2019, former Danone North America CEO Mariano Lozano said in an interview that this portfolio gave Danone many "tools and weapons" to attract more consumers and generate growth in trending areas.
The company also started on the road to plant-based cheese years ago. Its long-term growth plans in 2018 included tripling sales of plant-based dairy by 2025, going from $1.9 billion in 2018 to $5.7 billion in 2025. Danone's most recent earnings report, posted in October, doesn't break out plant-based sales versus traditional dairy, but it says plant-based brands posted global growth in the high teens in the quarter.
All of the new options and prominence of plant-based dairy products are likely to help the entire segment grow in 2021. The heft and name recognition of the So Delicious brand should also drive more sales, especially considering most other brands are focused on plant-based cheese and aren't known for other alternative dairy products. The biggest challenge for So Delicious may be convincing consumers that plant-based cheese tastes good — and that the brand can live up to its name.