• Brad Vanstone on Transitioning Plant-Based Cheese From Nuts to Beans



    Willicroft has seen enormous success this year with its vegan cheeses in retail in the UK, and throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. Here founder Brad Vanstone discusses his brand’s journey, the crowdfunder which is now at 50%, and the plan to transition cheese production from nut-based to legumes.

    “Food remains mankind’s largest contributing factor to the warming of our planet yet it’s an intrinsic part of our past, present and future. The businesses we most admire and respect are always looking inwards with the same focus with which they look outwards, even when that leads to them questioning what they see in the mirror.

    Impact only truly begins once you put numbers behind your assertions. We are all too aware of this from personal experience.

    On setting up a plant-based project, we immediately believed we were making the world a better place. Having looked at our emissions at greater length through a life cycle assessment, we discovered that whilst our emissions were a marked improvement on dairy, we had overstated that difference and therefore needed to improve it.  This was a tough realisation for an idealistic start-up but arguably the most important lesson we’ve learned to date. 

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    This Autumn we’ve launched a crowdfunder to tackle this issue head-on. At the beginning of 2020 we began searching high and low for base ingredients that fit the requirements and after almost a year of testing have settled on a shortlist of beans and pulses. Having successfully launched our first bean-based cheese, a white bean feta, we are now looking to switch our entire range away from nuts by the end of 2021. By removing nuts from our supply chain, we will also have the added benefit of having fewer allergens.

    The demand for beans and pulses continues to grow each year in Europe however the bulk are imported from outside the EU. We have a pilot project in the works for next Spring to plant beans here in the Netherlands in collaboration with a dairy and bean farmer. It is hoped that this model will be one we, and others, can scale across Europe acting as a transitional model for dairy farmers to move away from dairy.

    In addition to the farming project, we hope to display our emissions on our packaging to transparently communicate them to the consumer. It is hoped this will also inspire other companies to follow suit.

    Willicroft
    ©Willicroft

    I attended an event run by Patagonia where they were extremely self-critical about the wider adoption of organic cotton across the fashion industry. When they first began using organic cotton in the 90s, they believed this would be the catalyst for change across the industry. 20 years later and less than 1% of all cotton produced as clothes is organic.

    Whilst this is not the change they wanted; they remain committed to reversing this. This kind of radical transparency is exactly what’s needed if we’re to tackle some of the world’s most pressing and challenging issues. Change doesn’t come overnight, is rarely easy, and takes many iterations. Self-reflection, transparency, working collaboratively, compassion and rolling up your sleeves offer our best hopes for success.

    These were virtues installed in me by my grandparents who first started Willicroft in 1957, in its reimagined form these values run through the heart of all we do.

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