French dairy giant Bel to launch plant-based cheese

French dairy group Bel will launch a plant-based Boursin in the US next year as it develops vegan versions of its core brands, which include Babybel and The Laughing Cow.

The global French cheese giant said its ambition was to provide a plant-based version of each of its core brands.

Its first fully plant-based cheese will be a vegan version of Boursin, a garlic and herb flavoured spreadable cream cheese, set to launch on the American market through the Amazon Fresh platform at the end of this month.

It also plans to launch a plant-based Mini Babybel next year in the US and in January 2021, the manufacturer will launch ‘The Laughing Cow Blends’ range (made from cheese, plant-based ingredients and spices) in the US, the UK, Canada and Germany – all countries where the Suresnes-headquartered company has identified strong potential among flexitarians.

Bel CEO Antoine Fievet said the company was not looking to oppose dairy products with vegan versions but rather to “build the best of both worlds” at a time when consumers were being asked to reduce their consumption of animal-based products for both their health and the health of the planet.

Plant-based acquisition

In June this year, Bel finalised the acquisition of an 80% share of All In Foods, a French plant-based manufacturer known for its Nature & Moi range of vegan cheese alternatives and plant-based sauces. Its original vegan cheese alternative is made with water, coconut oil and modified starch with beta-carotene for colour and vegan flavours.

When announcing plans of the majority acquisition back in March this year, Fievet said it would allow Bel to “enhance its entry into the plant-based era” both by adding a vegan brand to its portfolio and by giving it the technical know-how to develop plant-based products under its existing brands. The dairy giant, which posted sales of €1,7 billion in the first half of 2020, is also in the process of preparing a new international brand fully dedicated to vegan products.

“We continue to diversify our product offering to meet new consumer expectations, and we are guided by our mission to champion healthier and responsible food for all,” said Fievet.

Sustainable food: What do Europeans want?

Consumer rights organisation BEUC conducted a survey on European consumers’ attitudes towards sustainable food in June this year.

It found that two-thirds of consumers were open to changing their eating habits for environmental reasons, with many willing to waste less food at home, buy more seasonal fruit and vegetables, and eat more plant-based foods. However, decreasing their dairy consumption or spending more money for sustainably produced food was more of a challenge for consumers.

More specifically, individuals in Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, and Austria were the most willing to increase their consumption of vegetables or plant-based foods, whereas consumers in the Netherlands, Belgium and Greece were the least willing to do so.

The Brussels-based non-profit said that consumers must be encouraged and supported in adopting more plant-based diets, which is crucial for lowering the food-related footprint.

“Focussing on positive messaging that encourages consumers to eat more plant-based foods rather than less meat; providing consumers with attractive alternative protein sources; and offering a wider range of meat-free options in the food catering and hospitality sector can all help in this respect,” it said.