Dave Kelsey left the International Pizza Exposition in Las Vegas last month feeling very good about the prospects for plant-based cheese products.
“I left the show excited about the tangible progress we are making industry-wide toward something quite revolutionary,” Kelsey, Chief Operations Officer at Whitehall Specialties, said. “I’d say we are 75% there as it relates to having a fully-functional offering in this category.”
The continued development of plant-based cheese products for the pizza industry is aligned with an overall consumer shift towards plant-based eating.
As a result, there were significantly more companies presenting plant-based cheese alternatives at the expo, most being soy- or pea-based.
“There are many ways to build a house. At the Exposition we had companies looking at soy and pea bases, but other protein sources are also being investigated,” Kelsey said. “The challenge is that it’s not very easy to create a soy-based product that is very clean tasting. Most right now still have an off-flavor.”
“As a result, companies are overcompensating with savory ingredients. In the past, they hadn’t been very successful because the savory sensation had to be strong enough to mask off-flavors associated with the soy.”
But the industry is getting closer, especially Whitehall Specialties, Kelsey said.
“At Whitehall, we are working on an excellent soy alternative in partnership with an international company that specializes in soy fermentation,” he said. Their proprietary soy fermentation process results in a very clean product, according to Kelsey. “It has good color and excellent flavor. Now, it’s just about refining the functionality so that we get the desired stretch and chew for pizza.”
Kelsey explained that a big part of the challenge in developing plant-based cheese product for pizza is that the technology used to cook pizzas has changed dramatically.
“There was a time you’d heat the oven to 425 degrees, bake for 12 minutes and you’d have your dinner,” he said. “Now you’ve got turbo ovens that cook pizzas in 60 seconds to three minutes. That puts different demands on the cheese. and stresses meltability, chewability and stretchability like never before. Our jobs have become a lot more challenging as a result.”
Because of its strengths in innovation and formulation, Whitehall Specialties is especially ready to capitalize on customer demand for plant-based cheese products.
“This segment is going to grow rapidly. It’s no longer a process of trial and error, but one of carefully refining the product development process. We are very close.” He said. “And that’s great for us because our technologies and capabilities are tailor-made to produce plant-based products. We have the knowledge to create different functionalities within the cheese by varying those characteristics I mentioned earlier, plus being able to control ingredients, like oils and fats to ensure we deliver a product with zero trans-fats. In summary, we have the equipment and capabilities to produce a great tasting, high-performance product.”
Excitement over new plant-based products is building at Whitehall Specialties.
“We are looking to do a scale-up in April to demo the cheese in various formulations for different applications. This will be our opportunity to showcase our innovation capabilities in a new, trending category,” Kelsey said. “There is exciting potential for this product. It fits nicely with what we do, and that means there is exciting growth potential for us and our customers.”