Revolutionizing Vegan Cheese: The Story of Good Planet Foods

Good Planet Foods is a plant-based food company specializing in dairy-free cheese alternatives. Utilizing an analog cheese process with plant-based ingredients, they’ve developed a range of products, including cheese blocks, slices, and spreads.

Good Planet Foods aims to offer a healthier choice for consumers and contribute positively to the environment.

We spoke with CEO David Israel.

OU Kosher:  David, could you provide some insights into the creation of Good Planet Foods, its product line, and your role in it?

David Israel: I sold my snack company in early 2017. Initially, it was a popcorn company, which later broadened into a wider snack business with a focus on indulgent snacks. Over the years, however, I started shifting towards cleaner, healthier products.

When the company was sold, I naturally gravitated towards the ‘better-for-you’ category. It was my sister-in-law who suggested exploring the vegan cheese industry. Although I was intrigued, I wasn’t initially passionate about the idea.

OU Kosher:  So, what made you take the plunge into vegan cheese?

David Israel: I bought some of the vegan cheese products available in the market to understand the industry better. Many of them had long ingredient lists and underperformed in terms of taste and texture. What really caught my attention, though, was the environmental impact of real cheese. That’s something I could get behind. Moreover, my partners in Israel liked the idea too because vegan cheese could be used with kosher products.

OU Kosher:  How did you approach manufacturing your products?

David Israel: In my previous venture, I was involved in manufacturing, but I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to continue with. When I started exploring vegan cheese, I wasn’t sure if I would manufacture it myself or use a co-packer. But once I understood the dairy process involved in making analog cheese, I knew I wouldn’t be building a facility for that. I reached out to several co-packers but faced a lot of rejections initially. It was a company in Greece that first agreed to replicate the process for us, and we began working with them.

OU Kosher:  So you started manufacturing in Greece. How did that evolve?

David Israel: When we launched in May 2018, our products were indeed being made in Greece. However, by 2019, when we had wider distribution, manufacturers in Wisconsin and Illinois began reaching out to us. We took the opportunity and started working with many manufacturers across these regions.

OU Kosher:  Why do you work with more than one manufacturer?

David Israel: Different products require different manufacturers. For example, we work with one manufacturer for cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack, but different ones for wedges, smoked wheels, cream cheese, and packaging. Also, having multiple manufacturers ensures production isn’t halted due to unforeseen issues.

OU Kosher:  Could you share some details about the growth trajectory of Good Planet Foods since its launch?

David Israel: Absolutely. We started shipping in September 2018 and made about half a million in the first four months. In 2019, our revenue hit 5 million, and by 2021 it was up to 20 million. Since then, we’ve seen a 15-20% growth year over year.

OU Kosher:  It sounds like you have faced some tough competition in the market. How have you dealt with it?

David Israel: Indeed, the market was flooded with similar products by 2021, with 23 or 24 competitors vying for attention. But not all of them could deliver a quality experience. The negative consumer experiences with these products didn’t just harm those specific brands; it made consumers wary of plant-based cheese altogether. Despite the challenges, Good Planet Foods and VioLife have continued to grow.

OU Kosher:  What do you mean when you say “challenging”? Are you referring to creating value-added products that can rise above the noise in the market?

David Israel: Yes, that’s correct. Our innovation is challenging. Currently, we’re either improving the quality of the ingredients we use or altering our processes to produce a better product. We aim to create a product that doesn’t require consumers to compromise anything when they make the shift. Our new product involves new ingredients that elevate the health aspect of the product.

This new product also fosters a stronger connection with consumers due to the ingredients used and its eco-friendliness. It’s much more carbon-friendly and planet-friendly. But it was hard. It took us a year and a half to develop the first initial product. The challenge lay in the ingredients we used and how to utilize them to create the products we wanted to offer our consumers.

Creating that authentic cheese experience involves research, testing, and gauging market responses. I believe we’ve nailed the product now. In March, we approved the first product samples, and since then, we’ve expanded from blocks to multiple threads, slices, and spreads – a whole array of exciting new products with this new ingredient deck. The main ingredient, however, makes it very challenging to work with, and that’s why our R&D team had to invest a significant amount of time and effort into this.

OU Kosher:  Is this work done by your R&D team, the Co Packer, or through a partnership?

David Israel: This is the work of our R&D lead, Mark Kavanaugh. He has a rich background in the industry. He spent a decade in the cheese department at Kraft, moved to Danone, and then worked with Siggy’s, where he created their plant-based yogurts. He’s been with us for almost three years now

OU Kosher:  Were there any surprises when working on the kosher certification in terms of ingredients?

David Israel: No, not really. Our R&D team has had experience working with the OU (Orthodox Union) for a long time. They understood the kosher certification process and knew they had to source products that would qualify. So we built the ingredients out of the gate knowing they would be okay.

OU Kosher:  Was there ever a point when you had any doubts about your decision to go down this road with cheese?

David Israel: No, once I became passionate about creating a product that was going to give a real experience of cheese and figured out how to do it, I was all in. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 19 and when I feel I can do something, I just go do it. I knew I had found the right process, the right ingredients, and I knew I could create something that didn’t exist, something better for the consumer and for our planet.

OU Kosher:  Sounds like you just went out there and created this. It could not have been easy because you were trying to do something that wasn’t available, that no one was doing at the time.

David Israel: It was a learning process. I came from snacks, which is completely different from cheese or plant-based cheese. But once I figured out the process, I started working with a company in Greece to make the product.

OU Kosher:  How did you get the information about what you had to do, or what the ingredients would look like?

David Israel: Once I saw what was in the marketplace, I realized we could use the analog cheese process, which is a cheese process, and replicate it with plant-based materials versus dairy powders and oils. The analog process, like with Kraft Singles, is the exact same manufacturing process as regular dairy cheese.

OU Kosher:  Can you briefly explain the analog cheese process?

David Israel: Sure, it involves using a cooker where you blend and cook dairy powders and oils into a paste, which then dries and depending on how we process it, we can turn it into a spread, a slice or a block. It’s a huge market and a faster, lower-cost process than real dairy.

OU Kosher:  What would you say to skeptical people who think that they can’t replicate the taste of real dairy cheese with plant-based?

David Israel: I think they’d be surprised. If they try something quality like Good Planet, they’ll be blown away. It’s important to remember it’s not real cheese, it’s plant-based cheese. While it’s not going to be exact, it’s going to be better for the environment, healthier, and in applications like pizza or grilled cheese, most people can’t even tell the difference.

OU Kosher:  Are you selling your cheese to other Mac and cheese manufacturers as well?

David Israel: Yes, we’re launching in Q1 of 2024. We’ve created an amazing Mac and cheese line.

OU Kosher:  What would you want to tell a kosher  consumer?

David Israel: I would want to tell them that they’re going to get a great cheese experience. They can use this in ways that they haven’t been able to before. Plus, it’s a healthier, cleaner experience and it’s better for our environment.  And we’re OU certified.