Miyoko’s Creamery experiments with higher protein products, gears up for battle over plant ‘butter’ labels

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Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after rolling out new oat- and legume-based shreds and slices at Whole Foods and other retailers, founder and CEO Miyoko Schinner said consumers were looking for plant-based dairy products that delivered on texture and taste, but with shorter, cleaner ingredients lists and more nutrition.

“All of our cheese products have 3g protein ​[per serving] but we want more, so we’re experimenting with an exciting novel ingredient that is inherently very high in protein without having to add protein powder or isolates, and so we think we’ll be consistently able to provide products with a higher nutritional profile.”

While plant-based cheeses have improved significantly in recent years, brands are “still making cheese by getting in the lab and combining oil and starch,”​ said Schinner. “But I feel like we have to start making real food that has nutritional value and clean ingredients so people can feel good about it. We have to start providing more nutritional value from all of these plant-based products.”

New stretchy vegan mozz with ‘just the right amount of cheese bite’

A high-profile vegan chef and author who has been doing a cooking show on Instagram and facebook in recent weeks to show consumers how to cook plant-based products during the pandemic, Schinner has also been developing a new legume-based liquid mozzarella for the pizza market that delivers “protein and stretch that you wouldn’t believe.”

She added: “It a really exciting product. It forms a stretchy cheesy mass when you bake it, which is different to other plant-based mozzarellas on the marketplace, which are often either rubbery or liquidy when they melt. This has just the right amount of cheese bite,

We’ve just launched at a NorCal pizza chain called Pizza My Heart and we’re in talks with several others – some regional and one national chain – and when QSR is back on track, we also see big opportunities for plant-based cheese slices as all these new vegan burgers need a good vegan cheese,” ​added Schinner, who plans to expand her R&D team this year.  

Packaging innovation

On the packaging front, meanwhile, she said: “We have some more innovation coming out later this year, so our cheese wheels will come out of the box so consumers will be able to see what they look like, as dairy cheese is always visible.

“We put ours in a box originally to make it stand out in the alternative set, but consumers want cheese in a form factor that they are familiar with.”

‘I truly believe this is the beginning of the end for meat and dairy’

While COVID-19 has meant the roll-out of its new shreds and slices was a little slower than anticipated; Target temporarily stopped ordering Miyoko’s products as its distribution centers were overwhelmed; and promotions at many retailers have been delayed; sales over the past three months have been “through the roof,”​ said Schinner, who is gearing up to launch new plant-based cheese chunks in Sprouts and some other retailers this summer.

On the supply chain front, she said, “We’ve beenlucky, we import cashews from Vietnam, and they haven’t been affected, but we’ve also recognized that it’s really important to diversify the supply chain and create redundancies. The oats and legumes in our new products ​[shreds, slices, chunks] are grown on North American soil, which is closer to home, but we’re going to diversify the supply chain even more in future.”  

It’s early days, but the current volatility in the dairy and meat supply chain will likely further accelerate adoption of plant-based alternatives, especially if prices move up significantly, she predicted.

“I truly believe this is the beginning of the end for meat and dairy and the beginning of a time for companies to become more compassionate towards animals and towards workers.”

Plant-based ‘butter’ dispute: ‘I’m not backing down’

Asked about the company’s legal dispute​ with the State of California over its use of the term ‘butter’ on plant-based products (Miyoko’s is suing state agriculture officials for violating its First Amendment rights by demanding the offending term be removed from its labels), she said: “They just filed a motion to dismiss, and we’re going to be responding very soon… I’m not backing down.”

In the lawsuit*- which urges the court to block the state from enforcing its labeling demands – Miyoko’s argues the state “unreasonably restricts Miyoko’s right to free speech by prohibiting the company from making truthful statements about the identity, quality, and characteristics of vegan and plant-based products.”​​

In a motion to dismiss the case, the attorney general of California argued that Miyoko’s filing was “premature​” given that the dispute is “not ripe for adjudication, and Miyoko’s has not suffered an injury in fact… Had Miyoko’s permitted the agency process to continue, the parties may have reached a negotiated solution.”

Read more about the case HERE​.  

*The Case is Miyoko’s Kitchen Inc vs Karen Ross (Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture) and Stephen Beam (Branch Chief of the Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture). Case # 3:20-cv-00893 filed 02/06/20 in In the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

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