Vegan cheese

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 19 vegan cheese brands.

We also look at non-vegan companies making vegan cheese, vegan cheese ingredients and palm oil, shine a spotlight on the ethics of KKR and give our Best Buy recommendations.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying vegan cheese:

  • Is it organic? For plantation workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues.

  • Does it contain any fair trade ingredients? As in so many food industries, workers have borne the brunt of the demand for lower prices. Look for fair trade to ensure that the workers are paid a fair wage and have fair working conditions.

  • Is it packaged in an environmentally friendly way? Most vegan cheese is packaged in plastic which you may not be able to recycle. Look for companies which are trying to find alternatives.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying vegan cheese:

  • Is it from a non-vegan company? Several of the companies behind the brands are also heavily involved in the dairy industry. Look for vegan companies to avoid funding factory farming and all the associated animal rights issues.

  • Does it use tax havens? If a company has operations in tax havens, it may be using tax avoidance strategies.

  • Does it mention workers’ rights? If a company is not discussing the rights of workers in its supply chain, it may not be doing anything to protect them.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

With the rise in veganism, the choice, quality and availability of vegan cheese has increased significantly in the last 10 years, and this is our first guide on the subject.

As more and more people turn to plant-based alternatives, partly in response to the role of animal farming in the climate crisis, the market has responded, showing the power of consumer demand.

In 2012, a vegan company based on the island of Bute in Scotland began making an own-brand block of vegan cheese for Tesco. They  now make it for all the supermarkets on this score table. Vegan cheese has gone mainstream.

Alongside supermarkets you can also find a much wider variety of vegan cheeses in wholefood and health food shops, and online. This includes a growing number of cultured vegan cheeses, made using traditional cheesemaking techniques and ripened for at least a few weeks. We’ve found that many of these are also made from organically grown ingredients which is even better news for the environment.

Ask an older vegan if they used blocks of vegan cheese 20 years ago and they would probably say when they did it was with hesitation. It simply wasn’t very good, or that widely available. You could buy shakers of Parmezano (a vegan alternative to Parmesan) or use Engevita flakes made from nutritional yeast (which are still available) to make a cheesy sauce or to shake onto pasta. Or you could grate a block of vegan cheese and mix it with vegan mayo for a cheesy spread.

Things have, thankfully, come a long way since.

Lower impact than dairy

As well as side-stepping the animal welfare concerns of dairy products (see our Dairy milk guide), plant based alternatives do, on average, have much lower environmental impacts than dairy in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use. See our feature comparing the climate impacts of plant and dairy for more detail.

Cashing in on the vegan tide: the non-vegan companies making vegan cheese

As well as supermarkets, other non-vegan companies have also entered the market. Food giant Nestlé has recently bought up a vegan cheese company called Daiya and is planning to start selling to European and US restaurants this year but it’s not in UK shops, yet.

Other examples of non-vegan companies cashing in:

  • Vitalite is owned by Dairy Crest, which also makes Cathedral City and Davidstow dairy cheese and a variety of dairy spreads including Utterly Butterly, Clover and Country Life. In 2019, Dairy Crest was bought by Saputo, a Canadian global cheese company which processes approximately 11 billion litres of milk a year.
  • Violife is a vegan cheese brand from Greece, which has been going since the 1990s but was bought by Upfield in 2019. Upfield was previously the food spreads division of Unilever, renamed when it was bought by global investment firm KKR in 2018. KKR currently has investments in pharmaceutical companies which test on animals and a company that produces meat products.
  • Applewood is primarily a dairy cheese brand from Somerset, now owned by Norway’s largest dairy producer. It released a vegan cheese in 2019 in collaboration with VBites.
  • Mozzarisella is an organic rice-based cheese, owned by Frescolat, a dairy cheese company from Italy.
  • Tofutti Brands is a vegetarian company that makes a range of dairy alternatives but does use eggs in one product.

The companies above lose marks under both Animal Rights and Factory Farming, for using animal ingredients which are not organic or free-range (or not entirely in the case of Mozzarisella’s parent company). They also lose marks under Controversial Technologies for the likely use of genetically modified animal feed.

image: three milk bottles labelled with anti dairy statements cows milk is for baby cows end clavery veganism is justice
Some companies making vegan cheese (like New Roots) take their veganism very seriously. Others are actually dairy companies who might be cashing in on the vegan tide.

Ingredients

The first commercially available blocks of vegan cheese were processed from soya. These days most of the cheaper and more widely available brands are processed from coconut oil, probably largely to achieve a melting quality.

The cultured vegan cheeses tend to be more expensive than the processed kinds, partly because they are made from more expensive ingredients such as organic cashew nuts.

If you are cutting out dairy you should check you are still getting all the nutrients you need - there are many good resources for this including the NHS and Vegan Society websites. 

What are vegan cheeses made of?

Coconut oil (usually about 20% pus potato or maize starch) Applewood, Cheezly new allergen-free, Green Vie, Koko, Sheese, Violife, Vitalite, Supermarket own brands
Cashew (organic)

Happy Cashew, Mouse’s Favourite (plus fair trade coconut oil), New Roots, Tyne Chease

Rice (organic) Mozzarisella (also contains organic coconut oil)
Palm oil (plus potato starch) Cheezly original (also contains soya)
Soya Tofutti

Palm oil

The only brand which used palm oil in its vegan cheese blocks was Cheezly.

This palm oil was listed on the label as ‘sustainable’, which the company confirmed means it is certified by  the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and so received a middle rating. However, the RSPO has received numerous criticisms including a recent Greenpeace report which called it a con, so it certainly does not offer full reassurance. Cheezly do now also have a new range of ‘allergen-free’ vegan cheeses which do not contain palm oil.

Other company groups used palm oil in other products. Brands affected were Koko and Tofutti which received worst ratings due to lack of information, and Violife and Vitalite which received middle ratings. All the supermarkets received a middle rating except Ocado, which received a worst rating due to lack of information.

image: woman with traditional fermented cashew nut cheese showing vegan cheese manufacture
New Roots is one of several companies now making vegan cheeses from cashew nuts, using traditional fermentation techniques.

Workers’ rights

Two key ingredients of most vegan cheeses are coconut and cashew nuts.

Both are imported from countries in Asia and Africa, with poor workers’ rights legislation. Below we explain some of the issues associated with these raw materials.

Coconuts

Coconut farmers often live in extreme poverty, averaging about $1 a day throughout the year.

As trees age, poor farmers won’t always have the resources needed to replace them, or to pay for medical care or education for their families. Fair trade is one response, allowing farmers to earn a premium to invest in their communities, in projects such as healthcare, education, agricultural training or business development.

One company in this guide using fair trade coconut oil was Mouse’s Favourite.

Cashews

Cashew nuts are the seed of a fruit, and if the shells are split by hand without protection, the acids used can burn the skin, leading to severe pain and even permanent damage. The charity Traidcraft Exchange reported on this in 2013 after finding evidence in India, and stated in 2018 that they believed the situation was still the same.

Of the companies featured in this guide that use cashew nuts:

  • Happy Cheeze stated that its supplier used machines for cracking the cashews.
  • New Roots named its two suppliers, one of which discussed safe working conditions on its website, and the other was also fair trade and had a committee of elected worker representatives.
  • Tyne Chease said the majority of its cashews were fair trade. Its supplier’s website stated that it carried out regular audits on ethical standards and working conditions.  
  • Mouse’s Favourite said it relied on its wholesale supplier to make the necessary checks.

Supply chain management

Our Best Buy brands New Roots and Tyne Chease, and our recommended brand Sheese, were made by small independent companies in their own factories. They also discussed workers’ rights in their supply chains and received best ratings for supply chain management.

Those that did not have any or adequate information on workers’ rights received worst ratings. Brands affected were Cheezly, Green Vie, Happy Cashew (said it would have more information after visiting suppliers in March), Koko, Mouse’s Favourite, Mozzarisella, Tofutti, Violife and Vitalite.

Packaging

All processed vegan cheese is packaged in plastic. In some areas this may be recyclable. Local producers may use greaseproof paper.

Only the fermented cheese companies in this guide were found to discuss packaging on their websites, New Roots’ packaging being 100% recyclable, Mouse’s Favourite using some compostable material, Happy Cashew using returnable ice packs for mail orders, and Tyne Chease stating on social media that most of its packaging was compostable or recyclable.

The shelf life of vegan cheese

Use-by dates vary widely among different brands, and a shorter shelf life can lead to food waste. Fermented brands often have longer dates.

Outliers among the processed options were Vitalite and Green Vie which, unlike other brands, did not state that they should be consumed within a certain amount of days after opening. We don’t know what preservative techniques they are using.

Tyne cheeze 4 weeks
New Roots 2 weeks
Sheese (and all own-brand supermarket varieties) 10 days
Mouse's favourite 7-10 days
Koko, Violife 7 days
Applewood, Tofutti 5 days
Mozzarisella 4 days
Happy Cashew 3-4 days
Cheezly 48 hours

Anti-social finance

Companies which paid any director over £1million in a year, or had significant operations in tax havens, lost marks under Anti-Social Finance. Brands affected were Tofutti (as the parent company of its sole UK distributor was based in the British Virgin Islands), Violife (excessive pay and likely tax avoidance strategies) and Vitalite (excessive pay).

All the supermarkets lost marks for excessive pay, and Ocado, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda also lost marks for likely use of tax avoidance strategies. Waitrose and Morrisons did not.

Company behind the brand

KKR, the ultimate owner of Violife, is a huge investment firm. As already stated, it has investments in pharmaceutical companies which test on animals, and meat companies which produce animal products. It also invests in oil and gas companies and has been criticised on human rights grounds.

In 2018, it entered an advisory partnership connected to a producer of tear gas (Safariland LLC) which has been used against civilians. Researchers claimed they had identified tear gas canisters from the company that were fired into crowds of migrants, including children, at the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico. They had also been used on anti-austerity demonstrators in Puerto Rico, Turkey and America, the researchers said.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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