MONTREAL — A few years ago, Saputo Inc. recognized an opportunity in the vegan cheese space, and made strategic investments in the United Kingdom to prime itself for bringing a vegan cheese to the marketplace.
Now Saputo Cheese USA Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., is bringing the Vitalite brand of plant-based, vegan-certified, dairy-free cheese from the UK to the US.
The global vegan cheese market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of about 10% and reach a market value of about $7 billion by 2030, according to a 2022 Food Institute report. The demand is being fueled by a growing number of consumers following vegan, plant-based and flexitarian diets, as well as mounting climate change and animal welfare concerns.
“Saputo has nearly 60 years of cheesemaking expertise — we know cheese,” said David Cherrie, vice president of marketing and innovation at Saputo Dairy USA. “Our consumer research showed that vegan cheeses weren’t meeting expectations for taste, texture and performance. As a dairy company, we are experts at making cheese people love and crave. Where other plant-based cheeses fall short, we saw an opportunity to use our expertise in the cheese category to create a delicious plant-based alternative.”
It started in February 2019 with the acquisition of Dairy Crest Group PLC, a UK-based dairy company that owned the Vitalite brand and used it with sunflower oil-based spreads. This got Saputo into the UK.
Then Saputo acquired vegan cheese manufacturer Bute Island Foods Ltd. in 2021. The business is located on the Isle of Bute, off the west coast of Scotland, and has been manufacturing cheese alternatives for more than 30 years for retail and foodservice. Soon after Saputo acquired the company, it brought the Vitalite brand into the dairy-free cheese segment.
“It was in the UK for about six months before we brought it to the US, where we first offered it to our foodservice customers,” Cherrie said. “The retail packs are now entering the marketplace.”
Chicago-based Rosati’s Pizza was one of the first to offer Vitalite on its menu. The shredded mozzarella-style cheese became available as an ingredient on all 12-inch and 14-inch pizzas this past June.
“Customers with dietary restrictions can now enjoy the quality pizza Rosati’s is known for by substituting our classic whole milk mozzarella with Vitalite,” said Jeff Rosati, chief financial officer at Rosati’s Pizza.
Menus and point-of-sale materials use the Vitalite brand, which helped Saputo raise consumer awareness for its retail launch this summer in select Midwest and East Coast markets, with expansion plans to move west. The initial rollout is in six varieties, including mozzarella and cheddar style shreds and slices, plus grated Parmesan style and a creamy spread.
“People following a plant-based or flexitarian diet have limited options in the grocery store and many of those options lack appeal,” said Nikki Trzeciak, executive chef and senior manager of culinary and sensory at Saputo. “The idea for Vitalite came out of trying to solve that. We want home cooks to feel liberated in the kitchen and inspired to create traditional foods they have an emotional connection to without compromise.”
Cherrie said that there are new products in the pipeline.
“We started with the core essentials,” he said. “Our intension is to grow the segment as consumer demand grows.”