NEW YORK — Pizza is always on the menu for New York City residents Kobi and Abev Regev. However, Kobi Regev was not fond of the affects traditional cheese had on his diet. After many formulations and diet changes, he and his wife produced an alternative, clean label, plant-based cheese they called Pleese Cheese.
“Pleese is short for plant cheese but it’s also because people told me they think New Yorkers are rude,” he said. “(And) I thought it was funny to make kids say please when they order pizza, I think it adds a more global appeal.”
Pleese Cheese takes a plant-based spin on the classic cheese and is formulated from fava bean protein, potato and coconut oil.
“We’re parents, so when you looked at the ingredients we were trying to make it as clean label as possible,” Kobi Regev said. “As more ingredients become available, we are constantly improving and seeing where we can reduce ingredients. There are a lot of ways other people cut corners and, for us, it’s very important not to cut those corners.”
For health reasons, Regev and his wife changed their diets and through the effort formulated their next endeavor.
“We knew we could live without meat and without milk, but we’re both from New York City and we both couldn’t live without pizza,” Regev said. “It became a hobby of ours to figure out how to make a pizza that was plant-based and not gross. It took us a lot of different iterations.”
The couple’s original version was nut-based cheese, but Regev knew he would face a dilemma within the market.
“In the back of my mind I knew this (the cheese) looked right, it tastes better, but what about people with nut allergies?” he said. “We are thinking about people with dairy allergies, but what about people with nut allergies? I left my comfortable sales job and went to work behind the counter at a pizzeria, and during that kids were asking me if there was corn in the crust and if there was soy in the oil and that is what made me realize what about nuts in schools? Do they allow nuts in New York schools? So, I called the school district and they said they wouldn’t take a nut-based cheese.”
Pleese Cheese’s go-to-market strategy is primarily foodservice but Regev hopes to grow into retail.
“One of the lowest barriers to entry we’ve found is at local (New York) pizzerias,” he said. “Pizza is everyone’s favorite food and just making it accessible, I believe that’s going to be our big victory lap. We want to be strong in one area before we do another distribution tactic, but we know we’re going to have the most fun when we go into retail the first time.”
Regev said they are aiming to expand into retail in 2024, experimenting locally in New York first and then pushing more broadly in 2025. Consumers may find the product in pizzerias.
“We’re looking at the Whole Foods, the Sprouts,” Regev said. “But living in New York City, I can go from one supermarket to the other and get to know the managers. One thing I’ve noticed living in New York City is the companies that aren’t Whole Foods maybe don’t have a lot of options or alternatives, those are the places I would like to stand out.”
After participating in Rabobank’s FoodBytes! Virtual pitch competition in October 2020, Regev said that experience elevated the business from another mom-and-pop shop to being taken seriously by larger organizations.
The competition also helped boost the company’s sales.
“We just finished the pilot program, so we had taken our homemade recipe and scaled it up for the first time in order to grow our sales network and we launched in five or six locations and they sold immediately,” Regev said.
The product is aimed at vegan and lactose intolerant consumers; but an additional demographic Regev is targeting is one he calls the “armchair health-conscious consumer.” Children are another audience the product is geared toward.
“I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old and I’ve never been more worried about ingredients in my life,” Regev said.
The company partners with a co-manufacturer to produce its product. Regev’s main focus for scaling is growing within the restaurant industry.
He hopes with a national distributor in Ace Natural, the business can significantly grow its numbers.