Nuttin Ordinary: Wholesome ambitions in the plant-based cheese market

Starting out in the plant-based cheese market proved quite a challenge for premium, cashew-based cheese brand Nuttin Ordinary. Learn how the successful company overcame the initial challenge of achieving consistent product quality.


“Reach out to your network to remain sane.” This is the best advice founder of Nuttin Ordinary, Joshua D. Velasquez, has for other visionaries such as himself with dreams of starting out in the plant-based food industry.

Nuttin Ordinary takes pride in being the premium plant-based cheese manufacturer in the north-east US. As they state on their website, the company is founded “on the idea of creating clean, simple ingredient-based foods that taste great and have nutritional value.” But like any other start-up, the successful company also faced its own set of challenges in the beginning, not least with ensuring consistent product quality.


So what do you do when you are not a food scientist?


A niche for premium dairy-alternative products
Joshua Velasquez grew up in the 80s on a vegan diet. Early on, he saw a need on the market for premium alternatives to dairy products, and he also recognised that many of the existing plant-based products on the market were filled with oils, thickeners and other additives that may not necessarily be beneficial to your health. In contrast, the Nuttin Ordinary products are based on cashew nuts, and the original recipe basically consists of five ingredients: cashews, water, Himalayan pink salt, nutritional yeast for flavour and a probiotic blend to start the fermentation process.


“Our focus is on creating quality products that are also healthy for you. But they still have to taste great. At the end of the day, the product still has to have all the taste and texture we grew up knowing,” explains Joshua Velasquez.


Today, Nuttin Ordinary can be found in multiple grocery locations across the US, including Whole Foods, Wegmans, Market Basket, Freshdirect and 100+ CoOps. But Joshua Velasquez explains that their success did not come easy.


The challenge of maintaining consistent quality in your products
“Fermentation has been a nightmare. I don’t have a background in fermentation but I’m always up for a challenge, and I refused to be defeated. So I basically did my homework on how to make this work. It took a lot of sweat, tears and gray hairs,” admits Joshua Velasquez and adds, “Fermentation and taste can be a real headache. There’s no playbook on how to ferment cashews, but I survived by tapping into my network. You can only do so much R&D on your own.”


It has been a challenge for Nuttin Ordinary to figure out ways to maintain the same texture and consistency from batch to batch, a challenge shared by many other manufacturers of plant-based food products. “It’s always sad when we have to throw away an entire batch. But it is also our integrity, and we don’t want our consumers to have an inconsistent experience,” says Joshua Velasquez. “I lost a lot of sleep trying to understand why we sometimes got products after fermentation that had different consistencies even though we didn’t do anything different.”


Now, the team at Nuttin Ordinary have begun to be able to control the production process better. “It’s a natural product so there will always be some natural differences from time to time. But you still want to reduce your variation as much as possible,” explains Joshua Velasquez. At the end of the day, getting your product as close to target as possible every time is the goal. It saves money and saves valuable natural resources.


How to grow your business without losing sight of your values
While Nuttin Ordinary started out in the basement of Joshua Velasquez’s parents, the company now has a production facility of over 700 square metres. For Joshua Velasquez, it is important to continue to grow the business without losing sight of what is important in the process. “While we continue to grow, we are focused on the quality of the jobs we’re creating and not the quantity. And that also makes it easier to manage,” he explains.


“Our next step is to raise capital to scale up and go national within the next three years. We want to partner with a large company with more experience than us, which will honour the integrity of what we’ve created here, because there are consumers looking for premium dairy-alternative products.”


Scaling your business requires efficient quality assurance processes
As part of their scale-up ambitions, Nuttin Ordinary wants to achieve a more efficient quality assurance process. “At some point, we are going to be able to really scale this up, and then we’re going to need to understand our processes even better than we’re doing right now,” admits Joshua Velasquez. 


Many manual and time-consuming quality assurance processes can be done more efficiently with analytical solutions. For example, moisture content and protein would be relevant to measure quickly and easily during the production process. “It would allow us to understand the natural variances that we’re constantly dealing with in our fermentation. If we had those instruments [to do measurements], that would give me some peace of mind,” concludes Joshua Velasquez. 


Luckily for Joshua and other manufacturers in the plant-based cheese market, such instruments are already available and ready to support the manufacturers in achieving a more efficient production process and consistent product quality. Gaining more data-based insight into your production with an analytical solution can be a path to significant efficiency improvements in your business.

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