The almond milk base currently used by the company offers a “deeper, nuttier flavor” more akin to dairy and a “slightly higher nutritional value” than its original coconut oil base, and while the company believes it closely mimics the taste and performance of dairy cheese, it also believes it can offer something more nutritional and sustainable, Daniel Yang, sales manager of Armored Fresh USA, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We’ve faced a lot of inquiries about using almonds, which have baggage given they need a lot of water and are often grown in California where there is a drought and water supply issues. And we completely understand that and do our best to source ingredients as sustainably as possible,” he said.
“But we also recently took a big step as a company and asked ourselves if we could make the same high-quality product, but without the almonds and with something more sustainable. So, can we do it with rice? Can we do it with yeast? Can we do it with something else that also isn’t an allergen? And I am proud to say we succeeded in a formulation that is almost ready for the market,” Yang said.
He explained that no release date has been set, but the company saw great results using rice, oat and a combination of both as the base formulation for its plant-based cheese.
“We are super excited about it and we think it has a high possibility of going out very soon,” he added.
Elevating plant-based dairy’s nutrition
The company also is exploring ways to improve the nutritional profile of its plant-based cheese – including enhancing its protein and potentially adding other functional ingredients, he said.
Currently, a 100g serving of the company’s American Slices has only 1 gram of protein, but Yang said the company is exploring how it could potentially boost the protein content to 15-20 grams without compromising the taste or the performance.
He explained Armored Fresh founded another company in New York that is focused on making raw ingredients for alternative dairy, including a non-GMO plant-based casein protein that Yang said, “allows us to also elevate and literally replicate the nutritional value of dairy cheese.”
That company is in the final stages of piloting the ingredient and looking to commercialize its next quarter or early quarter one of next year, Yang said.
“Once that happens, then we can genuinely and literally replicate whatever nutritional value that dairy will have in our own plant-based product,” he added.
Benefits beyond protein emerge as food as medicine movement gains traction
The technology the company is using to create the plant-based casein could also be used to add other nutraceuticals to products to potentially help consumers manage diet-related chronic disease through food.
“Potentially, we could supplement vitamins, probiotics, and even there’s talk about maybe can we get into nutraceuticals where people are eating for medicine rather than taking medicine on the side,” Yang said.
This potential comes as momentum for food as medicine continues to gain traction and recognition across the food landscape, including recently through a partnership in which the Veterans Affairs is piloting produce prescriptions as a tool to manage diet-related chronic disease.
Ultimately, Yang said, the challenge for Armored Fresh – and the rest of the food and beverage industry – is “how do we protect and guard our consumers’ health and the environment at the same time. It is challenging. But I think we’ve made very good steps being able to really elevate our protein level soon with our product.”
US distribution expands
Armored Fresh's research and development to finetune plant-based cheese comes as it expands distribution across the US of its existing almond milk-based Cubes and American Slices.
Beginning as early as next month, the company's Cubes and American Slices will roll out in select Kroger stores, following the recent launch of its direct-to-consumer digital store and availability on Amazon. The expansion follows a hyper-focused launch in New York City, where Yang says the company actively engaged with consumers to gather feedback and plot the best path forward for the company, whic his a subsidiary of South Korean-based food-tech firm Armored Fresh Inc,.
[Editor’s note: Interested in learning more about innovations in plant-based dairy? Join Armored Fresh, FoodNavigator-USA and other industry players May 17 for a free one-hour webinar discussing emerging trends and marketing opportunities in the space. Learn more and register today for Plant-Based Dairy: From oatmilk to chickpea ice cream.]