Babybel Is Bringing Plant-Based Cheese Wheels to the U.S.
With its distinctive red wax packaging, Babybel — which first launched in its mini form in 1977 — conjures up fond memories of opening up tiny cheese presents for a quick childhood snack. But though nostalgia may draw adults to the brand, Babybel is hoping a modern twist will inspire a new generation of fans: Babybel Plant-Based.
Launched in the United Kingdom in January, a plant-based version of the classic Babybel cheese snack is slated to arrive on this side of the pond next month, according to Bel Brands USA. The company, which owns other recognizable names like Laughing Cow, said the new dairy-free cheese will join its existing plant-based products Boursin Dairy-Free and its entire Nurishh product line.
Babybel says that its plant-based variety "mimics the same great taste" of its traditional cheese "now in a certified plant-based, non-GMO project verified, and certified vegan snack." The results are said to offer "a soft, smooth, and creamy texture, developed to taste like Mozzarella" — oh, and it's now in a green wax coating instead of a red one.
"At Bel Brands USA, we believe we can set the tone for the future of the cheese industry through a consumer- and customer-centric approach to innovation that focuses on products that meet evolving demands, even as those demands continue to shift," Shannon Maher, the company's chief marketing officer, stated.
A Babybel spokesperson confirmed to me that the recipe being used for Babybel Plant-Based in the U.S. is the same as the version currently available in the U.K. so, as a British resident, I ran off to Sainsbury's to put it head-to-head against traditional Babybel.
Initially, the two cheeses are very similar beyond their red versus green wax packaging. Once opened, the plant-based wheel is slightly thinner, and the color is a touch lighter. Texture-wise, the way the two cheeses pull apart in your fingers is remarkably similar. On the palate, however, the Babybel Plant-Based is softer and creamier — the first moment you might suspect it's not traditional cheese. I enjoyed the flavor of both versions, but I found them significantly different. Babybel offers its classic tang, whereas the plant-based take has a slightly starchy sweetness that gives way to a mildly lactic and salty finish. (As an unplanned side test, my cat — who adores cheese — inspected both samples, but only went for the red Babybel.)
Importantly, these two cheeses aren't the same style: As mentioned above, Babybel Plant-Based is billed as being inspired by Mozzarella while classic Babybel is considered Edam. That certainly tracks with the plant-based version's color and milder flavor. But personally, I think consumers would enjoy this dairy-free cheese most if they let it stand on its own merits. Plant-Based Babybel didn't specifically bring to mind any existing cheese varieties (if anything, maybe a dense cream cheese?) but I enjoyed it in its own right. All cheeses aren't the same, and they don't have to be.
If you're looking for a near-identical Babybel replacement, the plant-based take probably won't cut it, but if you simply want a solidly snackable plant-based cheese, Babybel Plant-Based did the job for me.
Meanwhile, Bel Brands says the plant-based cheesy nostalgia won't be letting up anytime soon: a plant-based version of The Laughing Cow is slated to arrive in 2023.