LAS VEGAS – Seoul-based food manufacturer Yangyoo Co., Ltd. has developed a vegan cheese its owners think will stand out in the global market. Now its US-based subsidiary, Armored Fresh, is seeking to establish the product in the United States.
Armored Fresh, McLean, Va., made news this past January when it introduced the vegan cheese at CES 2022 (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show). The subsidiary’s goals, said Andrew Yu, president and chief executive officer, were to get consumer validation and press exposure. The company is seeking sales, distribution, and the establishment of a manufacturing footprint in the US.
Until the US manufacturing footprint is in place, logistics will play a role in business development. All product is currently manufactured in South Korea and then exported to the US. Further complicating the supply chain is almond milk sourced from California is a key ingredient in the vegan cheese’s formulation and is shipped to Seoul for processing.
Yangyoo’s foray into the vegan cheese market began with pizza. The company identified consumer demand for vegan pizza, and, during the development process, formulators struggled to find a suitable vegan cheese. Management eventually decided the company should develop the non-dairy cheese itself.
Early iterations of the vegan cheese used cashew, but Yu said during an interview at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Feb. 6-8 in Las Vegas, that it quickly became apparent almond milk was better in terms of taste and the product’s nutrition profile.
“What a lot of vegan cheese companies haven’t figured out is how to make it taste good,” he said. “Many of them probably are focusing on the science of converting plants to protein and not focusing enough on the taste profile.”
Product development using almond milk began in May 2021 and the company decided it was ready for the market in December. Product formats include cubed, cream cheese, slices, shreds and as a pizza topping.
Yu said Yangyoo has a deal in place to sell the new cheese to a retail coffee chain with a few thousand retail outlets in South Korea and is in the process of finding additional customers.
He estimated the size of the vegan cheese market to be approximately $600 million but added that he thinks it’s bigger.
“We think that if the industry improves on taste, then consumption will improve,” he said.
He added that perception of what it means to be vegan also is evolving.
“There was a negative connotation to being vegan, but I think it is becoming more and more accepted,” he said. “So, I think that will grow the market as well.”
Another advantage he sees is Armored Fresh cheese may be fortified with up to 20% protein.
“If you look at many of the vegan cheeses on the market there are a bunch of zeros when it comes to nutrition,” Yu said. “We can put in as much as 20% protein. We can add other nutrients like omega-3s as well. We want to not just provide vegan cheese for the sake of saying it’s vegan. We want it to be nutritious.”
In addition to finding distributors and customers in the US, Yu is charged with establishing a manufacturing footprint. He said he is in discussions with co-packers and hopes to have agreements in place this year.
“The dairy cheese market in the US is huge,” he said. “We see consumer demand for a vegan alternative, and we think we have a product that will bring new customers to the category.”