Consumers can't get enough of Daiya.
The plant-based brand that started with cheese a decade ago has branched out into desserts, pizzas, breakfast burritos, sauces and dressings. Its products have received rave reviews, especially from the allergen-free community, which is constantly searching for a vegan and free-from cheese product that tastes and melts like the real thing.
Many people who avoid ingredients such as dairy, soy, gluten, nuts and eggs rely on the Canadian company's products. Dan Hua, Daiya's vice president of marketing, told Food Dive the brand has enjoyed high double-digit growth for years, generally about twice that of the broader plant-based sector.
Daiya holds such an important niche that Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka bought it for nearly $326 million in 2017.
But there are others who haven't heard of the company. Hua said the company is working to target that consumer.
"When we first launched, Daiya was all about meeting the allergen-concerned consumers," Hua said. "Now, mainstream consumers want plant-based options. So we actually try to lead the trend. ... We're now actually leading a transplant base with mainstream consumers. It's a win-win for us, both from a consumer standpoint, also as a business."
And business has been growing. According to Otsuka's most recent earnings report in August, total sales of the division Daiya is classified in — which also includes women's supplement Equelle and Japanese preventive health drink Body Mainté — were up 25.3% compared to the previous year.
Regardless of its placement in two trendy sectors that have been seeing phenomenal growth, Hua said Daiya's success and growth potential is more about making good food than it is serving the allergen-free or plant-based consumer.
"So the main insight, and it's not rocket science at all, is that we are about food," he said. "And so consumers want their cake and eat it too. So they want all the nutritional and all the free-from stuff like gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free. They want that, but they also want great tasting products. ... Our mantra is we offer great-tasting products that just happen to be plant-based."
Newer products, better taste
Daiya started out with a focus on plant-based cheese. Ten years ago, the company's Cheddar Style and Mozzarella Style Shreds, which melt in a way similar to dairy cheese, debuted at Natural Products Expo West.
Through the years, that initial plant-based dairy focus has broadened to different forms of cheese and products such as the company's Cheezecake, creamy Deluxe Cheeze Sauces, breakfast burritos, frozen dessert bars and pizza.
Improving the pizza has been one of Daiya's main projects in the last year, Hua said. They've tried to develop a more crispy texture and make the gluten-free crust thinner. They're improving the taste of the cheese sprinkled on top by adding chickpea protein. And they've made some of the offerings trendier, like a fire-roasted vegetable option and a meat-free meat-lover's style pizza. A new vegetable-crust pizza — blending cauliflower, sweet potatoes and spinach in the crust — will hit shelves in January.
Hua said adding breakfast burritos to Daiya's portfolio plays into the trend of consumers looking for easy breakfasts on the go. The company also found an opportunity in this segment for more vegan options. Daiya introduced products that use both egg substitutes and the company's plant-based cheese products to replicate the conventional items.
"Our mantra is we offer great-tasting products that just happen to be plant-based."
Vice president of marketing, Daiya
The goal behind these product expansions and renovations is to broaden Daiya's appeal. If the taste is good, consumers will buy it, Hua said. And if consumers become brand-loyal, they will be more willing to let Daiya into all parts of their day. Hua said the company has invested in consumer research to make product improvements, and it seems to be paying off.
Daiya also is improving its packaging and marketing, Hua said. Product packages used to be mostly white, which looked more medicinal — something that served Daiya well in the days when it targeted people searching for allergen-free options. Today, the packaging is being revamped to show off the product more as Daiya targets the mainstream consumer.
"Look of the packaging now: Lively," Hua said. "It's just more vibrant, you know? ...The whole idea is refresh and contemporize, and make it more appetizing."
After Otsuka's acquisition of Daiya was announced, company founders Greg Blake and Andre Kroecher posted a video about it on its Facebook page. The founders said Daiya and Otsuka both have common fundamental values, and a commitment to health and wellness of both people and the planet.
"We came to the conclusion that Daiya should be and can be a global leader in the plant-based lifestyle," Blake said. "We realized we need a partner in order to achieve that."
Hua said Otsuka, which owns no other food brands, has come through to support that partnership. The company has invested money in Daiya's market research and data-gathering efforts. They've also financed a 400,000-square-foot new plant near Daiya's current headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, which the company predicts will eventually generate up to $1 billion in revenue. Hua said that plant should open at the end of this year, and will be fully operational by 2020.
While much of the company's innovation and sales have been in the North American market so far, as soon as the new plant is operating, the brand will push hard for worldwide expansion. Daiya has been starting its expansion into Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia, making connections and building a global supply chain.
Daiya will be moving into all global markets, but the company has its major targets set, Hua said. One is Otsuka's home continent of Asia.
"In Asia, we have a lot of consumers who are lactose intolerant. ... We weren't raised on a dairy diet, so plant-based everything fits perfectly for the Asian market," Hua, who is of Asian descent, said. "Asia is behind North America [in plant-based food]."
Europe is already a major plant-based market, which is why Hua said Daiya's sights are set there for expansion. The market, which Hua said is ahead of the U.S. and Canada, is ready for more products. There's also a lot that Daiya can learn about the market from the European plant-based companies as well.
As the company expands, Hua said Daiya will keep its consumer-centered focus strong.
"At the end of the day, it's about all about food, right? So (it's about) how do we make that product taste as great as possible, period," he said.