The Dairy Alternative Divas At Daiya Are Capitalizing On Plant-Based Meats Going Mainstream

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The Impossible Burger has gone mainstream with the introduction of Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, and Beyond Meat has even gone public. Daiya, the market leader in non-dairy cheeses, is seeing a carry-on effect from the recent public attention plant-based foods are getting, so we reached out to them to learn more.

Image credit: Daiya

We sat down to chat with Daiya’s VP of Marketing, Dan Hua, to talk about how the company’s go-to market strategy is changing in response to plant-based foods getting so much attention in mainstream restaurants like Carl’s Jr., Burger King, Blaze Pizza, and more.

Earning A Place At The Table

Dan didn’t dance around the topic and instead, cut straight to the meat of the topic. “Daiya (pronounced “day-ah”) is all about delivering and offering great tasting products that just happen to be plant-based,” he said. In other words, Daiya exists to bring options to market that provide compelling alternatives to dairy products that don’t force consumers to compromise on the tastes and textures they’ve grown up with. “At the end of the day, it’s still a food product, so it has to taste good.”

Image credit: Daiya

Daiya originally set out to create new delicious alternatives for consumers suffering from food allergies to dairy products. The mission gradually grew over time to today, where Daiya enjoys a healthy lead in the space. “In the case of cheese, we are the largest manufacturer of plant-based cheese and by far enjoy the largest market share,” Dan said.

Daiya’s product line now stretches much farther than just cheese alternatives, with a line of cream cheese-like spreads, coconut yogurt alternatives, sauces, and more. The wide smattering of products gives consumers new takes on dairy products to try out to see if they are a good fit for their lives. Some emulate existing cheese products, like blocks of cheddar or slices of provolone while others, like Daiya’s coconut yogurt reimagine the texture and flavor of foods for a different experience altogether.

Going Mainstream

Dan envisions a world where Daiya’s products can hold their own against dairy products and find a following with flexitarians, vegetarians, vegans, and more. “Our ultimate goal is in the longterm, how do we match the taste and texture of animal based cheese products,” he said. If they can create products that compete with current products, but with a lower impact on the planet, healthier products, and none of the downsides of dairy products, the opportunity for growth is nearly endless.

Image credit: Daiya

Indeed, with the recent uptick in interest in plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, Daiya is already seeing a boost in product sales and customer interest in its latest line of premium plant-based cheeses. In the 52 weeks ending in April 2019, plant-based meats saw a 10% increase in sales, though the truly exciting growth has happened since then. Beyond Meat went public and rolled out various iterations of its Beyond Burger patty at food service locations across the country.

Impossible Foods took off at the start of the year, launching numerous pilots and rollouts at nationwide chains before slamming into a limitation on the production side of the equation, leaving numerous outlets across the country without any supply. Impossible Foods has since corrected the weeks-long issue and ramped up production just in time for the nationwide rollout of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King.

Trying an Impossible Whopper on launch day while charging. Image credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

Daiya sees the increased awareness as the next step up in what has been a long, steady growth curve for the company. “Over time, as plant based foods have gone mainstream, so have we,” Dan said. In addition to creating familiar tastes and textures, Daiya builds its products in the same formats as the dairy products they aim to replace. Because they come in the same formats and have similar cooking behaviors, Dan told me Daiya’s products can be swapped out one for one with animal-based cheeses.

“Plant based-foods are growing in leaps and bounds everywhere,” Dan said. Plant-based cheeses, a category in which Daiya enjoys a leading share, has grown 19% in the last 52 weeks, and show no signs of slowing down. While plant-based meat alternatives have effectively reached parity on the taste and texture front. “We’re just trying to evolve our business and product offerings to be closer to animal-based offerings,” Dan said. Much like their counterparts in the plant-based meat space, it has been a journey of decades and, “we’re not all the way there yet,” Dan admitted.

Image credit: Daiya

Dan told me that Daiya’s Cheddar-flavored Cutting Board Shreds was his personal favorite in the Daiya family, so after talking with him, I went out and picked up a pack. This product emulates shredded cheese from a cutting board, even going so far as to include a few bits of the ends of the block that anyone who has shredded cheese is familiar with. I threw it into a piece of garlic naan for a quick and easy grilled cheese and found the texture and flavor to be on point.

I’m no food critic, but I would venture to say that most people wouldn’t notice a difference. My wife is not one of those people and noticed a difference in texture and the smell right out of the bag. It’s good enough for me, but according to Dan, Daiya will keep iterating until they get it just right.

Ditching dairy products for plant-based foods is a huge improvement in sustainability by itself, but the food production and delivery still carry a significant carbon footprint. Dan admitted that Daiya is not where it wants to be when it comes to sustainability, saying simply that, “we’re at the beginning of the journey.”

Looking to the future, Dan believes sustainability will be a key enabler for the company. That’s even more critical as Daiya moves into the mainstream with its products and starts achieving mainstream production volumes. “We’re very much about delivering great tasting products that just happen to be plant-based.”

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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