Chains Talk Vegan Cheeses

Above: Papa Murphy’s Garden Veggie with vegan cheese is a popular choice at the chain.

Like most vegan food categories, the growth, diversity and quality of dairy-free cheeses in recent years has been simply astounding. For the upcoming October issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine, we checked in with operators across the country—from traditional independents to chains—to get their take on how vegan cheeses are working wonders across their menu. Here’s a taste of what they shared, and don’t forget to check out the full article in October’s print or digital edition!

Carron Harris, senior director of culinary, Papa Murphy’s, Vancouver, WA (1,250 U.S. locations, plus additional in Canada and the United Arab Emirates)

We tried eight different brands of dairy-free cheese, evaluating them on taste, appearance, meltability, texture and ease of use for operators. We also had to consider distribution across the U.S. and cost-effectiveness. We use Violife Just Like Mozzarella Shreds in our UAE stores, so having a global presence was a bonus. It also scored the best among our tasters in all of the categories. Currently, the cheese is on the menu on pizzas but can be subbed on a salad as well.

The mozzarella comes ready for operators to use and looks much different than our current whole-milk mozzarella, which is shredded in-house—which helps keep confusion at a minimum for the crew. Employees follow the usual steps to make a pizza, and the cheese comes in a reasonable-size package to prevent waste, which helps profitability. Dairy-free cheese definitely costs more to purchase, and we pass that along to consumers: Franchisees charge between $2 to $3 more for a pizza with dairy-free cheese to maintain profit margins. But customer response has been overwhelmingly positive! Families are so excited that they can get a dairy-free pizza for their lactose-intolerant kids. It allows the whole family to enjoy our pizzas.

Mac Malchow, director of menu innovation, Toppers Pizza, Whitewater, WI (70 locations)

There are so many vegan cheese options today, all with different taste profiles, visuals and melts. We reviewed more than 10 different cheeses before finally partnering with an expert vegan chef who helped us identify the perfect cheese for taste and melt in our ovens. We stock one dairy-free/vegan cheese, made by Follow Your Heart. We use this cheese on our build-your-own recipes, vegan house pizza recipes, and our Veganstix (the dairy-free version of cheesy Topperstix).

Any food product has storage and shelf-life procedures to keep in mind, but dairy-free cheese doesn’t require anything out of the norm. However, dairy-free mozzarella is much more expensive than mainstream mozzarella and even other niche cheeses, so we have to upcharge for it. As it continues to grow in popularity and our usage climbs, we’ll be able to purchase it at a lower cost, and in turn pass those savings onto our customers.

Still, the customer response since we added vegan cheeses has been phenomenal. We started receiving incredible customer feedback for our vegan recipes immediately upon rollout two years ago. The feedback has continued ever since, and it’s normal to see Google reviews every week mentioning the love of our plant-powered products. They are a small, but mighty and boisterous customer group that we love to serve.

If you’re looking to add vegan cheeses to the menu, be picky. Don’t rush the process. Find one you really love and that works with your other products. Don’t just add it to your menu as an option, but really incorporate recipes that you know (through research) that vegan customers are going to love.

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