Food allergies and dietary preferences have reshaped kitchen pantries in recent years, with a number of companies offering gluten-free or vegan options of popular items. The latest: Kraft, which is launching a version of their classic boxed mac and cheese dinner without any cheese.
CNN reports that Kraft Heinz has teamed with NotCo, a plant-based supplier, to create an alternative macaroni dish that uses plant-based cheese sauce instead of dairy. The product is advertised as vegan-friendly and comes in the original (i.e. orange) flavor as well as white cheddar.
The sauce packet is made with coconut oil powder and fava bean protein, which Kraft Heinz asserts tastes very similar to their classic version. That messaging is key: Only 30 percent of consumers who try plant-based alternative mac and cheese products wind up being satisfied enough with their taste to buy them again.
NotCo hopes to buck the trend. Their site asserts their plant-based alternative products are made with the assistance of “Giuseppe,” an AI platform that analyzes traditional recipes to come up with an animal-free option. Their collaboration with Kraft is dubbed the Kraft Heinz Not Company.
“The Kraft Heinz Not Company creates plant-based versions of fan-favorite foods that taste like the real thing, yet don’t require people to drastically change their eating habits,” Kraft Heinz CEO Lucho Lopez-May said in a press release. “NotCo brings its revolutionary AI technology that has a proven track record in creating mouthwatering plant-based foods to Kraft—the beloved mac & cheese brand that sells over a million boxes every day. Leveraging the strengths of both companies, we’re offering the creamy and comforting experience Kraft Mac & Cheese fans have loved for over 85 years—without the dairy.”
In the release, Kraft Heinz has dubbed the product Kraft NotMac&Cheese, though the product box itself looks similar to traditional mac and cheese; a “not cheese” disclaimer appears on the right side.
In providing the plant-based option, Kraft is shaking up a shelf-standard item. According to Smithsonian, Cheese salesman James L. Kraft obtained a patent for processed cheese in 1916, helping solve the problem of cheese spoilage. Kraft used cheddar cheese scraps, heated them, added an emulsifier, and then peddled his cheese slices. Kraft later developed a cheese powder consisting of defatted and dehydrated cheese sauce that consumers could restore with milk and butter at home. The boxed mac and cheese debuted in 1937, though it didn’t get its familiar blue packaging until 1954.
Kraft previously partnered with NotCo to issue vegan-friendly cheese slices and mayonnaise. The new “not cheese” mac and cheese is being rolled out in stores now, with wide distribution expected by early 2024. Each box retails for $3.49. The cost in 1937? Nineteen cents.