Cheese Alternatives

Good Food Awards Withdraws Climax Foods’ Vegan Cheese Nomination Over “Ingredient Concerns”

Climax Foods, a producer of plant-based cheese alternatives, was disqualified from the Good Food Awards just one week before the ceremony. The company’s Climax Blue, a cultured and aged blue cheese, had initially been selected as a winner in the cheese category, according to a confidential letter sent to the company in January.

The disqualification stemmed from the use of kokum butter, an ingredient in Climax Blue. The Good Food Foundation (GFF), which oversees the awards, expressed concern that kokum butter might not meet the “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) designation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The foundation also noted that the product was not “retail ready,” as the company’s offerings are currently exclusive to foodservice.

Disputes over kokum butter

Dr. Oliver Zahn, CEO of Climax Foods, expressed his concerns on social media, noting that the foundation disregarded the existence of another version of the product that substitutes kokum butter with cocoa butter, which is GRAS-certified.

Zahn stated, “The dairy industry tipped them that one extremely healthy and safe ingredient consumed all over the world for centuries – kokum butter – is not GRAS certified in the US. So three months after crowing us the winner, and two weeks before the award ceremony, they rushed to add this as a new requirement and conveniently ignored the fact that we have a version of the same product where kokum is replaced with cocoa butter (a gras certified ingredient).”

Climax Artisanal Plant-Based Cheese
©Climax Foods

He further revealed that these requirements were not clearly communicated when the company submitted its entry last year, telling AgFunderNews that the requirement was only added: “in direct response to a dairy industry person that contacted them this month to come up with a way to disqualify us.”

Criticism from cheesemakers

In January, food writer Janet Fletcher discussed Climax Foods’ recognition as a finalist in the Good Food Awards. She included comments from Good Food Award spokesperson Samantha Putman Allen, who explained that non-dairy cheese has been accepted in the competition for over five years.

Despite non-dairy cheese historically not performing well against dairy competitors, Climax Blue impressed the judges. However, the article also covered the displeasure of traditional cheesemakers, including a co-owner of Jasper Hill Farm, a fellow GFA finalist, who criticized the Climax product, stating, “My take is that it’s not cheese. It’s straight-up chemistry.”

Sarah Weiner, the executive director of the Good Food Foundation, confirmed to AgFunderNews that while the GRAS criteria were not explicitly stated until recently, it has always been implied that ingredients used should be safe for consumption in the USA. She noted that the necessity to make this explicit was realized only after encountering this specific issue and maintained that it’s within the rights of the GFF to update regulations.

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