Startup Spotlight: Armored Fresh brings ‘new enthusiasm’ to vegan cheese category with taste, price, new flavors

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By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags plant-based cheese Dairy alternatives oat milk vegan

While the vegan cheese category continues to face headwinds in the market, South Korea-based startup Armored Fresh is turning to its technology to address taste and price challenges, company VP Andrew Yu told FoodNavigator-USA in a Startup Spotlight video interview.

[Editor's note: FoodNavigator-USA's Startup Spotlight Series highlights innovative products and enterprising entrepreneurs who are reshaping the food and beverage industry, and seeks to share lessons learned and different approaches to common challenges facing new and emerging brands. If you are new to the scene and have a breakout product, stubborn problem, or savvy solution, let us know.]

“We're a food-tech innovation company making ... delicious zero-dairy and sustainable cheese for the food service and grocery retail channels. Our mission is basically embedded in the name of our company, which is Armored Fresh. So, armored comes from our desire to guard and protect the health and well-being of people ... at the same time guarding and protecting our animals and our environment.”

Started in 2019, Armored Fresh uses​ patented technology to create plant-based cheese through fermentation using plant-based lactic acid and plant-based milk. The company's first products were released in the US in October 2022 and are now available in Kroger, Fresh Thyme Market, Town and Country Foods, Fred Meyer, and other stores nationwide. 

Armored Fresh offers American, Cheddar, Provolone, and Pepper Jack cheeses in almond-based slices or oat-based cubes; almond-based cubes in Cheddar, Plain, and Blueberry flavors; and an oat-based Mozzarella shred. Additionally, it has an oat-based spread in Spicy Jalapeno, Plain, and Garlic Herb flavors for foodservice establishments. At the start of 2024, Armored Fresh released its latest product, Oat Milk Pepper Jack Slices, Yu said. 

“The development of our oat-milk pepperjack slices is essentially that we ran it through the same patented fermentation process that we use to develop all our cheeses, and so the result is basically the same. It's a great tasting. It has the aroma and the heat of pepperjack, [and] has a little bit of the nuttiness and the umami flavor" of pepperjack.  

Plant-based deals with sluggish demand, capital crunch

While Armored Fresh is optimistic about the plant-based cheese category, Yu admitted that the plant-based segment is facing challenges from both the funding and retail side. 

“From the investment perspective, we've been relatively successful securing our series A round and pre-B round,” Yu said. “There are challenges in the market, clearly. We talk to a lot of retailers, and they are telling us plant-based cheese, or plant-based food in general, ... is not doing very well.”

To counteract these challenges, Armored Fresh is turning to promotional activities to show consumers that plant-based cheese can taste as good as animal-based versions. This year, the company hosted more than a dozen tastings, and the response has been resoundingly positive. Armored Fresh is trying to change consumer perceptions that plant-based cheeses are inferior products compared to their animal-based counterparts.  

“We're bringing a new enthusiasm into this category, and the investors are getting it. They got it back last year when we closed our series pre-B round, and I think going forward I feel [Armored Fresh] will be the leader in this category, leading the charge in terms of our taste, pricing, melt ability, [and] our expansion of our categories in terms of adding new flavors.” 

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