Food Futures had the amazing opportunity to speak with Sarah, the founder of Compassion Creamery, and explore the world of the first-ever oat-based cream cheese. This innovative product aims to provide a sustainable and compassion-oriented vegan cheese alternative.
Introducing Compassion Creamery - A Lockdown Kitchen Creation:
Compassion Creamery originated in Sarah's kitchen during the lockdown, with a three-year journey to develop a unique oat cream cheese. Sarah shared, "it is created using 100% Australian-grown oats, but also there is no use of any typical vegan cheese ingredients like coconut oil, starches, gums, emulsifiers, nuts, or soy”. The process involved traditional dairy cheese-making techniques combined with the oat base, offering both sweet and savoury options. Among the top picks are "everything but the bagel," "chive and onion," and "truffle" on the savoury side, while the sweet offerings include "maple vanilla," "cookies and cream," and "couverture chocolate”.
Sarah's Journey for Compassion Creamery:
Sarah's journey from lactose intolerance to the creation of vegan cheese is a testament to her resilience and innovation. With a background in chemical engineering and specialised studies in the food industry, Sarah's personal experience of developing lactose intolerance became a pivotal point leading her towards becoming a vegan. During the COVID 19 lockdown, Sarah delved into experimenting with various vegan cheese options, including "cashew cheese, nut-based cheeses, and soy cheese." This culinary exploration sparked a thought in Sarah's mind: "why hasn't anyone made some from oats?" The journey presented difficulties, though. Sarah reflected, "after experiment number 50, I realised it was really hard”. Determined to create something unique, she decided to "follow how traditional dairy cheeses are made and started with first principles”. The arduous experimentation process, spanning approximately 253 versions, was met with consumer testing within Sarah's COVID bubble. This rigorous testing ground led to the emergence of Compassion Creamery's Oat-Based Cream Cheese—a product born from dedication, innovation, and a commitment.
Compassion and Brand Identity:
In defining Compassion Creamery's brand identity, Sarah shared a profound connection between the vegan product and her personal values. She expressed, “Compassion, the word often in vegan circles, is like extending out our circle of compassion to include animals; if we love them, we should treat them with kindness”. Sarah introduced a nuanced perspective on compassion, emphasising "the other side of compassion”. She elaborated, "I’ve tried to reflect through the brand which is the idea of self-compassion”. According to Sarah, this concept is gaining traction in society and plays a role in highlighting one’s mental health. For her, the word 'compassion' carries such weight that it can trigger positive effects. Articulating the core essence of the brand, Sarah explained, “it's like expanding outwards to encompass all living beings but also inwards as well, so we can treat ourselves well”. This dual approach—extending compassion both outward to encompass all living beings and inward for self-care—is intricately woven into Compassion Creamery as a guiding value, resonating through Sarah's words and shaping the ethos of the brand, finding expression in every product created.
Crafting Irresistible Flavours:
To perfect the flavour profiles, Sarah collaborates with experts including a chocolatier and a fellow cheesemaker to assess, analyse and critique the flavour profile to ensure optimum refinement. She noted, “having a community of people that really understand your product and support it and with consistent taste buds”. Sarah's dedication to refining flavour profiles, responding to consumer feedback, and engaging with a network of experts underscores Compassion Creamery's commitment to delivering a product that not only aligns with values but also captivates taste buds.
Health Benefits Beyond Taste:
Sarah highlighted the health benefits embedded in Compassion Creamery's oat-based cream cheese. She points out, "oats contain the beta-glucan compound, which has shown to help with lowering cholesterol levels”. Moreover, this cream cheese variant boasts a health-conscious profile with "higher protein content than typical vegan cheese, contains olive oil instead of coconut oil for a healthier saturated fat to unsaturated fat ratio, and is cultured and fermented”. Sarah outlines the array of health advantages associated with this oat-based product.
Sustainable Steps and Conscious Consumption:
In outlining Compassion Creamery's commitment to sustainability, Sarah emphasised a fundamental objective: crafting a product she is "happy to put in my body and consume every day". This commitment extends to minimising the ecological footprint, where Sarah delved into the intricacies of supply chains and ethical considerations. Sarah illustrated her conscientious approach with examples, noting that alternatives like cashew cheese can have "questionable supply chains from an ethical perspective in terms of human labour and cashew harvesting". She also acknowledged how "some coconut oil has been linked to animal labour". This awareness and commitment to ethical sourcing contributed to Sarah's decision to use oats as a base ingredient. She emphasised the environmental benefits of "oats being a grain, reduces the size of the land footprint at least and is grown much more readily in a climate like Australia”. Sarah underscores ongoing efforts in refining packaging, recognising the integral relationship between shelf life and packaging. She noted, "shelf life and packaging go hand in hand, and at the moment, we're trying experimentation with different types of seals and gas flushing, for example”. Currently available in the Sydney area due to the challenges of cold freight distribution, Sarah is actively working to address these logistical hurdles, affirming, "it's something we're continuously working on to try and find solutions”. The commitment to reducing environmental impact is evident not only in ingredient choices but also in the persistent refinement of packaging solutions. Every step of the production process reflects Sarah's thoughtful consideration and ongoing experimentation for continuous improvement.
Sarah provided insight into Compassion Creamery's sourcing approach, revealing that "approximately 80-83% of our ingredients are locally sourced and Australian grown, sourced from Victoria and some sourced from South Australia”. The collaboration extends to suppliers who share a mutual interest in innovation, as Sarah articulated, "they are interested in seeing their raw materials used in new ways, the value adding from changing a stalk of oat into something new”. Highlighting the benefits of a streamlined process, Sarah noted that sourcing ingredients within Australia proves to be more efficient for Compassion Creamery. In the creation of their products, Sarah specifically opts for oats that undergo a meticulous process, stating, "processed with a stream roller and milled prior to use." Expressing an eagerness for more engagement in the sourcing network, Sarah mentioned, "it would be enlightening to speak to more oat growers," especially in the context of the changing climate and its impact on crops and agriculture. This proactive approach to sourcing underlines Compassion Creamery's commitment not only to quality but also to staying informed and connected within the agricultural landscape.
Over the past nine years, Sarah has observed a surge in demand, popularity, and interest within the plant-based space. She described this trajectory as an "incredible increase" that she finds both fascinating and encouraging. In this evolving landscape, Sarah emphasised the imperative need to centre attention on food sustainability. She expressed “hope that more individuals will choose to be more sustainable, kind, and more ethical” in their dietary choices. Food sustainability is a core aspect shaping the future of our food systems. Her insights resonate with the growing awareness within the industry, highlighting the pivotal role that sustainability plays in creating a more conscientious and ethical approach to the way we produce and consume food.
Advice for Startups:
According to Sarah, a key piece of advice for startups is to "ensure that if you have an idea, validate it, to ensure that it is a solution to an actual problem”. Her emphasis on practicality underscores the importance of addressing real-world challenges. Expanding on her insights, Sarah highlighted that "everyone will want to give you advice, but not everyone is the right one”. She explained the imperative to seek advice that is "specific or tailored to your idea”. This is crucial for startups, helping them navigate through the diverse perspectives and find guidance that aligns with the unique vision and challenges of their venture.
Believing in Compassion Creamery and the Road Ahead:
Sarah's unwavering belief in Compassion Creamery finds reinforcement in "external validation" and the surging consumer demand, marked by an increasing number of requests for the product. She is motivated by being "morally and ethically driven," emphasising the fulfilment derived from working on a product that aligns with these principles. This moral compass becomes a driving force in Sarah's determination for the success of Compassion Creamery's oat-based cream cheese. Looking towards the future, Sarah sheds light on the next steps for Compassion Creamery. The focus is on scaling the business, as of now, the products are exclusively available in the Western Sydney area. Sarah expressed her aspiration to retail the product more widely in the near future, reflecting a commitment to expanding the reach of Compassion Creamery.
Food Futures finds inspiration in Sarah's journey, encapsulating personal values into the creation of Compassion Creamery. As the brand moves forward, we anticipate further innovation and positive impact, we look forward to seeing how Sarah and Compassion Creamery continue to evolve and make a flavourful and sustainable future in the domain of plant-based foods.
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