Over the last few years, plant-based food trends have fluctuated as consumers lean more into vegan lifestyles, meat-heavy paleo diets and everywhere in between.

According to San Francisco-based Grand View Research’s Vegan Cheese Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report, younger generations have been boosting the plant-based cheese markets, particularly millennials.

In 2021, the global vegan cheese market was valued at $2.43 billion (USD), and the report predicts that the market will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.6% from 2022 to 2030.

According to the report, some of the prominent players in the current vegan cheese market include the following: Treeline Cheese, Follow Your Heart, Daiya Foods Inc., Kite Hill, Violife, Dr. Cow Tree Nut Cheese, Tofutti Brands, Inc., Tyne Chease Limited, Miyoko’s Creamery and Parmela Creamery.

The report determines the biggest factor driving the growth of plant-based cheese is the increased consumer awareness of animal cruelty and other environmental issues in the dairy industry.

Secondarily, more and more consumers are discovering that their health is adversely affected by eating dairy products. In 2019, the Food Intolerance Network reported that around 70% of the world’s population experience lactose intolerance.


Plant-based ingredients

The Grand View Research report found that vegan cheeses made from cashews held the largest global revenue share of more than 35.0% in 2021 and continues to stay in the lead.

“Cashew-based vegan cheese contains vitamins B2 and B12 and is low fat,” the report stated. “This makes it favorable among health-conscious consumers all over the world. Furthermore, gluten-free and cholesterol-free cashew products are gaining traction owing to their health benefits.”

The soy-based vegan cheese category is also rapidly growing, and researchers predict that it will have the fastest CAGR of 13.1% from 2022 to 2030.

“Soy milk is a low-cost substitute for dairy and has a complete balance of desirable fatty acids and amino acids,” the report said. “Therefore, it is a cost-effective solution for large-scale vegan-cheese producers. In addition, soy-based cheese is gaining traction among consumers as it is easy to melt.”


The rise of the flexitarian

Many consumers are looking for balance with a flexitarian diet and are incorporating plant-based cheeses into their meals alongside animal products.

In January 2023, Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Saputo Dairy USA published its Vitalite Veganuary Survey conducted by Wakefield Research over the course of Nov. 17-22, 2022.

The survey’s results lined up with the Grand View Research report, finding that millennials were the most willing to try plant-based alternatives at 81%, followed by Gen Z (68%), Gen X (67%) and boomers (57%).

Across all generations, more than half of those surveyed (56%) said they would not want to publicly identify as a vegan or vegetarian. The top three reasons were not knowing if they would be able to fully commit to the diet (23%), not wanting to make other people feel like they were pushing the diet onto them (21%) and not wanting people who consume animal products to feel judged (18%).

The survey also found that many consumers would be hesitant to fully commit to plant-based cheese solely for their health.

“Only 27% of Americans would add plant-based cheese to their diet if their doctor told them to eliminate dairy cheese,” the company said. “However, one in 10 (12%) would refuse to give cheese up and another 20% would still sneak it sometimes. The cheesy dishes they’d miss the most if they had to forgo dairy cheese are pizza (75%), mac and cheese (47%) and cheeseburgers (49%).”

Despite the reported hesitations, a third of respondents (34%) still expressed interest in adopting a vegan lifestyle.

“Survey data shows 68% of Americans have tried a plant-based meat or a dairy alternative,” the company said. “The data also revealed that a third (31%) of Americans substitute meat, cheese or dairy with a plant-based alternative in an average of eight meals a week, suggesting that while they may not go fully vegan, there is a growing appetite to follow an occasional plant-based or flexitarian diet.”


Celebrity influence

In June 2022, Saputo Dairy USA launched Vitalite — a line of plant-based vegan-certified cheeses—with actress, director and author Laura Prepon as spokesperson.

While Prepon is known for her roles in “That ‘70s Show” and “Orange Is the New Black,” she is also a cooking enthusiast with her own culinary line called PrepOn Kitchen. She has partnered with Vitalite to help change the stigma around plant-based cheese.

According to the company, Vitalite cheeses have a great melt for cooking, and Prepon is sharing her favorite ways to use the products with her 10 million-plus social media following.

“I like to live a flexitarian lifestyle and it wouldn’t be possible without the right ingredients. That’s why Vitalite plant-based cheeses have become a staple in our home,” said Prepon. “I’ve also recently found out that my children have sensitivities to dairy, so we use Vitalite plant-based cheese for basics like grilled cheese and quesadillas or sprinkled on tacos, as well as in more in-depth recipes like my black bean and quinoa burgers stuffed with cheddar-style cheese. All of our expectations of yummy, melty cheesy goodness are met.”

Plant-based snacks packs

Bellevue, Wash.-based GOOD PLANeT Foods rolled out its new plant-based snack packs in October 2022. Each snack pack has a suggested retail price of $1.99 and contains vegan cheese, dried cranberries and a type of nut.

The two varieties currently available are: Smoked Gouda with Dried Cranberries and Almond; and Cheddar with Dried Cranberries and Cashews.

“As the demand for plant-based cheese continues to grow, consumers have been vocal about not having enough quality options,” said Bart Adlam, Good PLANeT Foods’ co-CEO. “At GOOD PLANeT Foods, we are constantly looking for ways to bring the joy of cheese to more consumers who are looking for ways to eat more plant-based foods. With snacking continuing to grow quickly in the US, our new snack packs are a delicious, healthy and satiating alternative. We are committed to growing the plant-based cheese segment and confident that this innovation will bring new consumers and eating occasions to the segment.”

GOOD PLANeT Foods’ other plant-based cheese products include slices, shreds, snacking wedges and smoked wheels. According to the company, all of its products are made with clean ingredients that also create the ideal taste, texture and melt for a cheese alternative.