Grounded Foods is edgy and hip in all the right ways, and it’s been a lot of fun for us here at Victory Hemp to collaborate with them as they’ve geared up to officially launch their alt dairy product line.
If you’re not familiar with them yet, here’s a little background: they cut their teeth in the restaurant industry in Australia and then migrated across the Pacific to launch their start-up. Based in LA now, the company makes no cheese cheeses from cauliflower and hemp. That’s right—two powerhouse plants that aren’t typically used to make plant-based cheeses are the primary ingredients in their three alt cheeses. We think their Cheese Free Cheese Sauce is a dead ringer for Velveeta, but a lighter and healthier version.
Photo by Shaun Quade, Grounded Foods
A few weeks ago—before Grounded Foods officially launched their products in retail outlets (you can still buy their products off their website, too)—we hopped on Zoom to chat with co-founder and CEO Veronica Fil to get the full story behind the brand so we could share it with you.
How did you get started ?
We got the idea for our cheeses back when we had a restaurant in Australia. My co-founder Shaun [Quade] is a self-taught, fine-dining chef. I wanted to veganize the menu so that we could reach a broader audience. We started adding items like charcuterie from celeriac. For our cheese, Shaun wanted to start from scratch and with ingredients that have high nutrition and are environmentally sustainable.
He started making the cheeses in our apartment kitchen. Within a few months, we had become unintentional black market cheese makers in Australia.
Why did you choose hemp for your cheese?
Hemp wasn’t our first ingredient choice, but it evolved and sparked our interest more and more as we started to look at non-traditional ingredients. We like novel foods and look for foods that are more sustainable and better for our bodies, but not from a militant, tree-hugging, cow-hugging perspective.
You see the success of Oatly, other alt milks, and even other plant-based product categories. But the plant-based cheese category has failed miserably. And I think it’s because they’re using traditional, old-school formulations. Hemp has a texture and mouthfeel that gives the cheese its creaminess. We wanted to use the raw hemp seeds with our own proprietary enzymes.
Photography Supplied by Grounded Foods
What brought you to the U.S.?
We were pitching our next restaurant concept in LA to investors. In Australia, we didn’t hire hospitality professionals. We hired from other industries to engage all of the senses in our restaurant. And it didn’t go down well with the Australian market. But we did well with the Australian tourism industry.
Also, the U.S. market is much larger. The consumer market in California alone is larger than Australia and New Zealand combined.
One of the investors was looking through our pitch deck and I had a slide with information about our cheese side hustle at the end. He saw it and wanted the cheese concept. He offered us $2 million and we turned it down. Instead, we entered into a Mars competition [the multinational food manufacturer] and won. We used the $40K prize money to get started building upon the concept in the U.S.
How did you and co-founder Shaun partner?
It started on an app called Tinder. A week before Shaun opened his million-dollar restaurant, Lume, in [Melbourne] Australia, we went on a date.
At the time, I had a marketing agency that specialized in food and beverage. And I’m a behavioral economist so I’m always watching the market. Better plant-based cheese was a category that needed innovation—I was actually trying to convince all of my clients to do it.
Why did you partner with Victory Hemp to source your hemp?
It was just the best product.
When we first moved into this apartment, there were boxes and boxes of samples everywhere and I was getting really mad about it. Shaun tried so many hemp suppliers. He goes by the quality and he wanted Victory Hemp Foods' product because he said it was superior to all the others he had tried.
More cheese for now. We have a second product line of cheeses coming—hard cheeses like cheddar, and pizza cheese. We want to stay agile, look for gaps, and go where the demand is.
We recently launched in Whole Foods in California, the Pacific Northwest, New York, and Chicago. By early fall we hope to be in retailers all across the country.
Shop for Grounded Foods cheese free cheese at https://groundedfoods.com/