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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Created on Jun 5th, 2023
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Willicroft 2023: Plant-Based Cheese

DeliveryRank chats with Brad Vanstone, the founder of Willicroft, a company that creates delicious and sustainable plant-based cheese alternatives. Unsatisfied with the options available in the market, Brad embarked on a mission to create a cheesy alternative that would satisfy his cravings while also being kind to the planet. Brad's passion for sustainable food and commitment to creating a positive impact on the environment has led Willicroft to become a leading player in the plant-based food industry.

Can you tell us a little about Willicroft and how you got started in the plant-based cheese industry?

I started Willicroft back in 2018 when I had recently moved to the Netherlands and was looking to eat a plant-based diet. I found it difficult to find alternatives to cheese and so I began making some at home. It all started in my apartment and at first, it was just an experiment to create something for my partner and me. However, I quickly became immersed in the process, drawing on my background experience from time spent on my grandparents' dairy farm, where I learned some of the basic processes.

Initially, I started selling my cheese alternatives in markets here in the Netherlands. After a year, I decided to set out on a path to tackle the problem I had faced the year before: finding delicious alternatives to cheese that also had a compelling nutritional and emissions reduction story. And that's how it all began!

How do you approach creating plant-based cheese products that mimic the taste and texture of traditional dairy cheese?

To replicate dairy cheese, we first look at how it's created and try to learn as much as possible from the process. Like dairy cheese, we start by making a milk with binding proteins and fats. For some cheeses, casein is a crucial ingredient, as it provides the stringy texture in some and the hardness in others. However, for ingredient-based cheeses, we can find alternatives.

Once we have the milk, we add natural ingredients to give it both texture and flavor. From there, we create the structure of the cheese. Depending on the type of cheese, we format it into the appropriate shape, such as blocks for hard cheeses or cubes for feta. Ultimately, by understanding the process behind dairy cheese and using natural ingredients, we can create delicious and sustainable alternatives.

Can you speak to the sustainability and environmental impact of Willicroft's products? How do you prioritize sustainability in your production process?

At Willicroft, we are committed to leaving the planet in a better state than what we've found it and reducing our impact on the environment. As the first and only plant-based cheese B Corp in Europe, we take pride in being one of the highest-scoring globally.

We have implemented a continual process of measurement and improvement in terms of our emissions. This journey started three years ago when we looked at the emissions of our highest ingredients. We found that cashews were the biggest emitting ingredient in our supply chain. This led us to change all but one of our recipes away from cashews, which significantly reduced the emissions of our cheeses.

To give an idea of the impact consumers or businesses can have by choosing Willicroft, we have compared the emissions of our cheeses to other dairy cheeses and plant-based cheeses. For example, our Greek White cheese emits 25 times less CO2 than a dairy feta, and it's also 50% less than Violife. Sustainability and impact are at the core of what we do. It's not just an add-on but a fundamental part of our mission.

Our commitment to sustainability means that we continually optimize our production process. We use life cycle assessments (LCA) to highlight every component of our product's life cycle, and then we identify the next biggest areas for us to focus on. For example, we are currently looking at the fats in our cheeses, which are the next biggest ingredient and highest emitting ingredient after cashews. We have started conversations with our producers to explore ways to lower emissions and reduce their impact.

With data, we can make informed decisions and take actions to reduce our impact on the environment. At Willicroft, we believe that it's essential to prioritize sustainability and take responsibility for our impact.

What advice would you give to individuals or companies looking to transition to a plant-based or vegan lifestyle?

My advice to individuals or companies looking to transition to a plant-based lifestyle is to keep an open mind. While there are some amazing plant-based products out there, there are also many products that may not suit your taste. Don't let one bad experience deter you from trying other plant-based options. 

Making incremental improvements is also important. Start with the biggest emitting ingredients, such as red meat, and cut it out of your diet or replace it with another type of meat. You can also reduce your meat and dairy consumption by having one or two meals without them each week. It's not possible for many people to go cold turkey and go vegan overnight; incremental change is key. Everyone's journey is different, so find what works best for you.

What are your plans for the future of Willicroft? Are there any exciting new products or initiatives on the horizon?

As for our plans for the future, we have a lot of exciting things in the works. In April we’re launching at Albert Heijn and in May, Tegut in Germany. 

We are about to release a fermented butter product, which is the first of its kind in Europe. We have used precision fermentation to replicate the flavor of real butter, and the result is an incredibly delicious and versatile product that can be used for cooking, baking, and spreading.

On the impact side, we have started growing white beans in the Netherlands. We experimented with four varieties on one hectare of land last year, and this year we will be working with three varieties, combining their textures to create the biggest sample pool possible. Our goal is for this ingredient to be entirely sourced from Dutch farmers within the Netherlands next year, and then we will move on to other parts of our supply chain.

These are just a few of the projects that we are currently working on, and we always have meetings on the horizon to plan for what's next. We are committed to sustainability and making a positive impact, and we are excited to see what the future holds.

If you would like to find out more about Willicroft, visit https://willicroft.com/ or follow on https://www.facebook.com/willicroft.pbc/?ref=py_c or https://www.instagram.com/plantbasedcheese/

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