Can Vancouver-based Daiya’s fake cheese entice non-vegans too?

Daiya Cheese | BCBusiness
Sampling, to get consumers over their skepticism of fake cheese, is key to Daiya’s marketing strategy.

It can bubble, melt, stretch and spread. Now thanks to rising consumer allergy anxieties and cheesy technological advantages, Daiya Foods hopes to take fake cheese to the next level

Over the years, Greg Blake, co-founder of Daiya Foods, has watched his product track around the grocery store—from the produce section (think tofu) to the natural foods aisle and finally by the milk—with much anxiety and anticipation. When Kraft is on the next shelf up, “there’s a real expectation of moving more product.”

Daiya—the East Vancouver company that pioneered a dairy-, gluten- and soy-free cheese-like substance—saw its manufacturing capacity double and sales rise 50 per cent in 2013. Now under a new CEO—Terry Tierney, previously CEO of Whole Foods’ in-house coffee brand, Allegro—Daiya wants to move past shreds, spreads and blocks, with packaged foods, such as frozen pizza, in its sights.

Blake says the success of Daiya and its growing list of competitors in the vegan/vegetarian processed-foods market—Tofuti’s dairy-free pizza, Tofurkey and Silk—is tied to the increasing popularity of veganism and the hunt for a dairy-free substance that mimics the texture and consistency of cheese. (The Daiya product on shelves today is a composite of tapioca and arrowroot flower, palm, coconut and canola oils, flavouring and proteins from peas.) Shifting consumer preferences have led to a boom in the food-allergy and -intolerance market, projected to be worth $26.5 billion by 2017 according to Global Industry Analysts.

Blake decided to create a composite free of whey, casein and soy because he and his co-founders saw the market opportunity for a dairy- and gluten-free cheese—often the hardest food for those with dairy sensitivities to give up. “Consumers are not making the concessions they would have in the past,” says the long-time vegan. Since launching in 2009, Daiya has moved from the natural health food stores to conventional grocers and expects to be in 14,000 stores across North America by year’s end, up from 12,000 at the end of 2013. The company has also landed contracts that will see its products served in cafeterias at the Google Campus, Microsoft and the University of California Berkeley.

Ready to move past its just-for-vegans reputation and solicit a new kind of customer, Daiya is leaning heavily on in-store sampling, says Blake. “We want to get to a point where someone comes back from their doctor, has been told to watch their cholesterol, they buy and taste Daiya and say—‘I think I can do this.’”

The experts weigh in

So, this thing you’re selling—is it cheese?
Jonah and Andrew Benton, Benton Brothers Fine Cheese: As far as we’re concerned, non-dairy cheese isn’t cheese so it’s not really much of a comparison.
Greg Blake, co-founder, Daiya Foods: Absolutely. We compare ourselves against a dairy-based gold standard (which I won’t disclose).

How healthy is your “cheese” compared to the competition?
Benton: Cheese has been consumed for thousands of years. The dairy-free sort may have lots of health benefits, but it’s not cheese.
Blake: No cholesterol, and much less saturated fat compared to dairy-based cheese.

Pretend you’re on Dragons’ Den and you need an investor: Why buy your cheese?
Benton: It’s a simple, natural product. And it tastes good.
Blake: Everyone knows someone who’s lactose intolerant. We offer a no-compromise alternative with the stretch, melt and creamy characteristics that eaters desire.