HOOD RIVER, ORE. — From the makers of Tofurky comes Moocho, a line of dairy-free alternatives for shredded cheese, cream cheese and cheesecake. The brand was set to debut at Natural Products Expo West, which has since been postponed.
Plant-based cheese alternatives available in the marketplace today typically lack in taste and texture or functionality, said Jaime Athos, president and chief executive officer of Tofurky.
“They live in that ‘close, but not quite’ space,” Mr. Athos told Food Business News. “We wanted to create something that can do it all, just like real dairy cheese can. And that’s what I think we’ve done.”
A key ingredient is cultured soymilk, which Mr. Athos said adds creaminess and a tangy taste to the spreads, in original, garden vegetable and strawberry varieties. The shreds, in flavors including cheddar, mozzarella and fiesta blend, combine fermented cultures with coconut oil, faba bean protein and potato starch.
The products are slated to launch this summer in retail and foodservice outlets. In-store tastings will be an important component of the brand’s go-to-market strategy, Mr. Athos said.
“I think for a lot of us, if we try new products that come on the market and we have an underwhelming or neutral experience, we probably won’t go back to them… That’s true at the category level, too,” he said. “We want to show consumers their last experience is not the be all, end all of what a cheese alternative experience can be.”
Seth Tibbott, Mr. Athos’ stepfather, founded Tofurky in 1980, initially selling tempeh and eventually adding ham- and turkey-style roasts based on tofu and vital wheat gluten. Today the company offers meatless deli slices, sausages, hot dogs and more. The brand also is expanding retail distribution of a plant-based beef-style burger made with soy, which launched earlier in the year exclusively at Target stores.
“Some people think of soy as old technology, but actually it’s got a lot going for it,” Mr. Athos said. “The yellow pea that others are using is a relatively immature supply chain. When we looked at that we realized there’s protein in abundance but there’s starch and other byproduct ingredients in even greater abundance. Because they just haven’t found uses for those things yet … that’s a big strike against yellow pea. Yellow pea also has product development challenges. It has a pretty noticeable off flavor, so it requires even greater milling and processing to get some of those flavors out.
“When we looked around for the best protein source, we ended up with a familiar old friend, which is soy. It has a higher protein content. It’s easier to get the protein out… It hit all the notes.”
“When we looked around for the best protein source, we ended up with a familiar old friend, which is soy. It has a higher protein content. It’s easier to get the protein out… It hit all the notes.” — Jaime Athos, Tofurky
The company, which remains privately held and family-owned, has evolved its product development process recently to a more collaborative model as the market for meat alternatives continues to expand.
“There’s so much more interest in plant-based now that a lot of good potential development partners that opened up out there with vast R&D resources,” Mr. Athos said. “We were able to avail ourselves to some expertise that we didn’t before.”
On the additional competition in the plant-based marketplace, Mr. Athos said, “It really is about the mission for us, and there’s nowhere in our mission that says Tofurky has to be the biggest company or make the most money. For us it’s really about making big changes in the food system…
“We didn’t have the resources that those investors brought to the table for Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. The really aggressive marketing and cool corporate partnerships they’ve done, they just really got plant-based on the tongues of everybody. Everybody’s talking about it. Everybody’s trying it. It feels like they helped to push us over the tipping point. And that’s what we’ve been looking for.”