Rachel Walker talks to Alice Shopland of vegan ‘naughty treats’ company Angel Food, and the newly-launched Cherub line.
ALICE SHOPLAND of Angelfood has long held the totem torch for importing delicious vegan goodies from the globe over, and has done it in true Wonder Woman style. Some may be tempted to let the happy story end there. However, this self confessed witty ‘veganglical’ has taken it one rather large step further, by launching Cherub Dairy Free all in her own back yard, so to speak. If her first carefully constructed and delicious product of the range is anything to go by, then allergy afflicted Kiwis and vegans have just become most lucky indeed.
Doctor Feelgood: Alice, congratulations on your latest venture with Cherub Dairy-Free. With Angel Food importing vegan deliciousness for the past seven years, was the addition of Cherub a natural progression for you?
Our products will always be vegan, but Cherub is designed to appeal more to mainstream dairy-avoiders. There are far more people with dairy allergies and intolerances than there are vegans, and to make this vegan business really successful, we need to cater for them. And the better the dairy alternatives in the market, the easier it is for people to go and stay dairy-free, whatever their motivation.
DF: And can we expect Angel Food to play more of a ‘supporting role’ now?
Angel Food will remain the parent company, importer, exporter and distributor. And new products we develop that are aimed at the vegan market, rather than the allergy market, will probably still be under the Angel Food brand. It’s a work in progress, though!
DF: With Cherub Dairy-Free, not only are the products going to be made right here in NZ, but you’re also aiming to have them gluten free and soy free – what made you choose to do this where possible?
From exhibiting at Gluten-Free Food and Allergy Shows around the country, we know that dairy and gluten are the big allergy issues, closely followed by soy. It makes sense to create a product that as many people as possible can enjoy. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is when someone whose child has multiple allergies discovers that they can actually eat our products!
DF: Your first product already in stores is the cream cheese alternative, and here at Doctor Feelgood we love the melt in your mouth texture, while its mildness makes it the perfect accompaniment for any dish. However, will the hardcore cheese lovers out there get their cravings satisfied with it?
We’re not trying to fool anyone into thinking this is dairy cream cheese. But for people who can’t or won’t consume dairy but still want that familiar tangy richness on their bagel or in a cheesecake, this hits the spot!
DF: What type of feedback are you getting back from retailers and customers so far about not only the new presence of Cherub, but the launch of the Cream Cheese as well?
People seem to be very happy that a New Zealand-made product is available, and we’ve had excellent feedback about the product itself.
DF: For the readers that haven’t yet gotten their hands on the Cream Cheese, what are a few of your favourite ways to indulge the tastebuds with it?
We’ve made lots of delicious canapés with it. A smear of cream cheese on a piece of pumpernickel bread, topped with little bits of tasty things like pesto, artichoke heart, olive, roasted cherry tomatoes… but for more everyday stuff, it’s great in tomato sandwiches and swirled into pumpkin soup.
DF: Your next Cherub product is due at the beginning of April. Any hints on what that could be?
Yes, the secret is out: it will be a parmesan-style product called Bellissimo! It will replace the UK-made Parmazano that we have been importing for years but which is no longer being manufactured.
DF: And further down the line?
A sour cream alternative and a cheddar-style spread will be the next products, although the launch date isn’t yet decided. We have a swag of products in line after those, but we have to proceed in a dignified manner!
DF: Can you tell us about the behind the scenes workings of Cherub and how you and your team are getting your inspiration transformed into pure goodness?
When I picked up the first finished tub of the cream cheese, I realised that most people would have no idea how many hundreds of tasks and decisions had led to that product becoming a reality! Nor should they, of course. But I did feel proud, knowing that I had guided that product from an idea to a finished product, including doing the food styling and photography for the label!
Putting a new product out involves a long chain of events: deciding whether there is a market for it, perfecting the recipe, finding a suitable contract manufacturer (not easy when you are doing relatively small batches and need excellent allergen control), deciding on packaging, getting the label designed so that it looks attractive and fits all legal requirements, doing shelf-life testing, sourcing ingredients, drawing up a marketing plan… and at every step you have to keep checking that the costs you’re committing to will lead to a reasonable price for the consumer.
In the Angel Food office in Grey Lynn, there is just me full-time and my partner Colin Woods helping out on a very part-time basis. We have an amazing team of contractors around us for accounts, complex food tech stuff, graphic design, and business planning.
My background is in journalism, but I’ve always been a very keen and creative cook, and messing around with new ideas is one of my favourite things to do. Most of our product development is done in our home kitchen using very basic equipment – although I suppose most home kitchens don’t have scales that measure to 0.001 of a gram…
DF: In simple terms, what makes you do what you do? What impact are you hoping to have?
I believe we don’t need to consume animal products. But I understand that most people believe they are essential for a healthy and enjoyable life! I want to help shift that situation, by providing good alternatives. I think it’s the most useful thing I can do.
DF: What is your vision for Cherub, for the next say, five years?
In five years, Cherub will be big enough to have several full-time staff doing admin and marketing, so I am free to focus on business development and play with new recipes! In January, Colin and I went to the UK for three weeks to visit family and do market research, and that really whetted my appetite for more travel … and that means freeing myself from the office.
DF: And last but never least, imagine this for me: After a long day at work, you’ve come home rather worse for wear and starving. With the use of the Cream Cheese, what are you having (and is there dessert)?
First thing, put water on to boil for pasta. Put a can of chopped tomatoes into a pan with a cup of cooked chickpeas, and season with chilli and garlic salt. Let that simmer while the pasta is cooking. When the pasta is done, stir a big spoonful of Cherub cream cheese into the tomato chickpea sauce. Put the pasta into a large bowl, top with the sauce and, hopefully, a handful of dark salad greens from the fridge. Very comforting food, and achievable in about 15 minutes if you’ve got the ingredients on hand!
Oh, you want dessert, too? Grab a nectarine out of the fruit bowl.
You heard the lady. Now if you too would like to try the Cream Cheese Alternative by Cherub Dairy- Free, stockists can be found here here.
Meanwhile, I have a funny feeling that me & ‘Bellissimo’ the parmesan, are going to become rather firm friends come April… RACHEL WALKER