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Pleese Tests DTC Sales of Its Cheese Analog

Specialty Food Association

A maker of a plant-based cheese substitute designed specifically to melt on pizzas has discovered strong consumer demand in its first foray into direct-to-consumer sales, said Kobi Regev, who co-founded Pleese with his wife, Abev. 

Pleese, made from a combination of potato and bean proteins, coconut oil and other ingredients, until last week had been available only to a handful of local pizza restaurants in New York. As a test, the company launched nationwide direct-to-consumer sales of its commercial bags of Pleese shreds this past weekend as an Earth Day special, and demand was four times the volume expected, Kobi Regev sold SFA News Daily. 

The vegan couple first launched the Pleese product in late 2020 in an effort to create a cheese product that could satisfy their cravings for New York-style pizza. While plant-based cheeses have been on the market for some time, products that melt properly on foods such as pizza have been elusive for manufacturers. 

After launching the product in a handful of New York City restaurants that year, the couple began noticing strong demand from consumers asking where they could purchase the melty cheese analog. 

“We decided to just conduct a national test with a limited online sale,” said Regev. 

Even though the commercial-sized bags were expensive — 2.5-pound bags cost $26, plus shipping — consumer demand was strong, he said, with many customers requesting multiple bags or entire cases. 

The test yielded valuable data, Regev said, such as validating that demand was high in many of the affluent areas of Florida, for example, a fact he had suspected because of activity on the company’s website. 

“Now we're just using that data to then turn to local distributors and say, ‘Listen, this is where your customers are. These are people who are buying bulk bags just to get the product, and you should have this available in foodservice for them.’” 

Pleese recently began commercial distribution through Ace Natural, a New York-based distributor focused on natural products that bills itself as “New York’s plant-based authority.” 

Regev also said he plans to use the data gathered from the online sale if the company does someday launch the product at retail, although for now he’s focused on growing the restaurant supply. He recently attended the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, where the product garnered a lot of interest, he said. 

He said he hopes the contacts he made there will help expand Pleese into restaurants in new markets. 

The company works with a co-packer in Wisconsin that specializes in plant-based dairy, and has the capacity to ramp up production as distribution expands, Regev said. 

In addition to being vegan, Pleese also is made without soy or other common allergens, he said. 

“Our mission really is that no kid should have to have a weird pizza at a party,” said Regev. 

The product is also targeted to consumers that avoid eating dairy for health reasons, he explained. 

The company’s internal research and development team also has an American-style slice in development, Regev said, although expanding restaurant distribution for the company’s pizza cheese substitute remains the near-term goal. 

As Regev told attendees at the Pizza Expo, “This is what happens when a New Yorker can't have cheese anymore.” 

Related: SuperMeat Hosts Cultivated Meat Tasting; Truff Debuts Best Pizza in Chicago Contest.