'Innovation is a big part of what we're doing'
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Nuts For Cheese quality control assurance manager Leigh Cookson (left) holds vegan unsalted butter and business development manager Candace Campbell holds vegan cheese. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

A London food business continues to rack up wins in the tough U.S. market as it prepares to launch its vegan cheese line in Whole Foods stores across America.

Nuts For Cheese, the dairy-free cheese product that has seen massive growth in recent years, is now sold in 18 American states and will soon add to that total as it has lined up more distributors south of the border, said Candace Campbell, its business development manager.

“In the last few months we have onboarded the largest national distribution partners in the U.S.,” Campbell said of inroads into the big U.S. market. “This means we have the ability to go national and open warehouses across the U.S.”

Within weeks Nuts For Cheese will launch its products in new regions in the U.S., including Colorado and Florida, as well as in more stores in the Midwest and the east, she added. Within two years Nuts for Cheese products may be found in all 50 U.S. states.

“The largest national distributors for natural food products have picked us up,” she said. “We’re having good conversations now with big players.”

Sales at Nuts For Cheese have grown year over year by more than 40 per cent as it’s tapped into the growing vegan and vegetarian trend, added Campbell. “The vegan market is exploding and dairy-free cheese is one of the fastest growing sectors. We’re lucky to be in a place that is growing.”

Part of its growth is an appeal to not only those embracing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Cheese lovers who are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies are snapping it up, too.

Nuts For Cheese makes its non-dairy cheese from fermented cashews, coconut oil and sunflower oil among its ingredients. It also makes a non-dairy butter that can be used as a substitute for real butter in a one-for-one ratio in cooking and baking.

Nuts For Cheese is the most recent success story in a fast-growing London food sector that boasts more than 60 businesses, said Kapil Lakhotia, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp.

“Our food cluster is developing rapidly. We’re getting a lot of inquiries about food businesses. We’ve become a leading hub,” Lakhotia said. “Nuts For Cheese is a boutique product that’s finding strong demand in the marketplace. It’s an alternative to dairy and meat.

“There is a real movement across North America and they’re benefiting.”

In January, the federal government announced more than $7 million in support to help grow The Grove, a food incubator hub at Western Fair District created to help grow small, entry-level food businesses.

“It’s not just about large food industries like Maple Leaf Foods, but we’re developing and growing small food companies too. The Grove will be a hub for the next Nuts For Cheese,” Lakhotia said.

Nuts for Cheese employs about 30 and recently expanded its Pacific Court plant to 25,000 square feet (2,250 square metres), adding about 15,000 sq. ft. (1,350 sq. m) over two years.

It’s about to launch a new cheese flavour, Cranberry Pink Peppercorn, in the fall, joining its brie, artichoke and herb, black garlic, chipotle cheddar, blue cheese and smoked gouda, which used to be called red rind.

It’s also about to add a third Nuts For Butter flavour, with unsalted original joining salted original and herb and garlic. It’s also planning a cream cheese product in 2022.

“Innovation is a big part of what we’re doing. If you don’t innovate when you sell into the U.S., you will not be successful,” Campbell said. “It’s so exciting to be part of this culture, to do work that has value. Seeing this kind of growth is rewarding.”

Food research points to meat substitute sales in Canada climbing from US$120 million in 2015 to $226 million by 2022, according to the website Statista.com. That site also states there are 2.3 million vegetarians in Canada and 850,000 vegans.

Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.

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