The product, to be sold in paper pouches containing six wax-coated cheese alternative snacks, will start rolling out at Albertson’s Acme & East, Albertson’s Portland, Certco, and Hy-Vee stores early May, and will see an increased distribution in June at Kroger stores nationwide.
A Bel representative told us: “This certified vegan iteration of the fan-favorite White Cheddar cheese a similar taste and texture, with the signature sharp tanginess of cheddar cheese, but without dairy. It offers a good source of vitamin B12 and calcium so those who choose to not eat dairy can still receive added nutritional benefits.”
White Cheddar is the second flavor in Bel’s plant-based range of Mini Babybel, joining the original dairy-free variety, which is based on a blend of coconut oil and starch and similar to mozzarella in taste. Bel did not explicitly answer what ingredients were used in the making of its plant-based White Cheddar, nor did the company disclose the new product’s detailed nutrition information. Per 100g, the original plant-based variety contains less than 0.5g of protein but relatively high values of calcium (680g) and vitamin B12 (1.5mg). With five 20g snacks per a 100g pouch, the consumer would gain these nutritional benefits if all five plant-based snacks were consumed.
Notably, the new flavor will be sold in a pack of six snacks instead of five. The company is also utilizing paper pouches with compostable cellophane.
The race for more protein
In recent years, Bel Group has been heavily focused on improving its dairy alternatives. Since October 2022, the company entered a strategic partnership with Paris, France-based precision fermentation specialist Standing Ovation in a bid to create animal-free casein for use in its dairy-free cheeses. The ingredient can be produced at scale in a laboratory and has dairy-identical properties, making it possible to formulate dairy-free cheeses, such as brie or blue cheese, which can be difficult to manufacture with plant-based ingredients.
Bel also announced a partnership with Climax Foods, a biotech company that leverages artificial intelligence to find out what types of plants would be suitable to create plant-based cheese with properties that are as close as possible to dairy. Speaking to DairyReporter in April, Bel Group chief venture officer, Caroline Sorlin, said the company’s key focus was to improve nutrition – especially protein content – across its alt dairy products. The development of the newly-released plant-based Mini Babybel flavor was carried out before the partnership with Climax Foods had been sealed.
Core brands such as Mini Babybel – as well as The Laughing Cow, Boursin and Kiri – will be the focus of the company’s future reformulation efforts. According to Sorlin, Bel is looking to release ‘plant-based cheeses that look and taste like dairy cheeses and have a high level of nutrition’ in 18 months. In addition, the company will work with Climax Foods on brand new offerings, which are expected to launch in the US and Europe in Q4 2024.
According to retailer shopper card data obtained over 34 weeks until mid-March 2023, Babybel Plant-Based has become the #1 new item in sales of all refrigerated vegetarian options, and ranked #1 in trial and repeat of all new non-dairy cheese items, with 60% of sales coming from new buyers.
The original vegan-friendly product was launched in 2022 as Bel noticed ‘a lack of plant-based snack cheese alternatives’ with ‘quality taste and texture’ on the market. The reason why the company went with cheddar as its second plant-based flavor was the dairy product’s popularity – according to Bel, White Cheddar is one of the most popular cheese flavors for the brand since it launched more than a decade ago.
“Babybel Plant-Based has seen an overwhelmingly positive response to-date among flexitarian and vegan shoppers,” said Ridhi Barber, senior brand manager at Babybel. “We wanted to continue this momentum and introduce a second dairy-free Babybel snack option in the fan-favorite White Cheddar variety.”