Would-be spacecraft engineer Mike Moore self-funded the launch of his plant-based cheese brand, in 2012. Four years later, investors are hammering at his door

With a master’s degree in spacecraft engineering, Honestly Tasty founder Mike Moore is light years from where he once saw his career going.

But the decision to steer a different course was the right one. His cheese alternative brand is listed in retailers including Selfridges – and is poised to hit the mainstream after securing backing from investors such as specialist fund Veg Capital.

Moore launched the business in 2019 with his sister Beth, after struggling to find vegan food while on a winter holiday. “I was skiing with some mates in the Alps and, as a vegan, there was nothing I could eat,” he explains.

After researching the market, Moore realised there was a gap for a quality cheese alternative. “At that time, the current generation of plant-based cheese didn’t melt, didn’t have the same depth of flavour, and the textures weren’t right.”

Determined to find a better product, Moore undertook months of further research, including travelling to Berlin to take a course on plant-based cheese production methods. “I came up with my own way of making a soft creamy blue cheese, but there was a lot of trial and error,” he says.

Honestly Tasty (1)

Honestly Tasty’s range includes Herbi, Bree and Shamembert lines

At this time, Moore was working on the NatWest corporate banking graduate scheme, having decided spacecraft engineering was not the career for him. In 2018, he landed upon the right recipe – and quit the corporate world to start selling his vegan blue cheese to shops, pubs and restaurants. “We either messaged people or just walked into shops and asked if they wanted to try the cheese.”

It’s made using technology similar to mass-produced alt-cheeses but, unlike those other products, it also employs culturing and maturing.

“Without getting too technical, our process breaks down sugars, fats and proteins in a way that gives us more depth of flavour than a lot of things on the market at the moment,” Moore explains. “It’s so much closer to regular cheese than anything that’s been done in the past.”

Initial sales took off quickly and, within six months, Honestly Tasty, then funded by personal savings and loans, expanded into a small commercial kitchen.

The pandemic struck just months later, but Moore believes lockdown helped rather than hindered. “As soon as Covid happened, we launched the online store,” he explains. “I think people were looking at how to stay healthy and were seeing things such as vegan diets.”

The success of the web store helped Honestly Tasty’s social media presence explode. This, in turn, helped to win listings with Planet Organic and Selfridges – and the brand also secured some wholesale distribution.

Honestly Tasty’s operation grew again last year, to run from a factory in north London. Its range has expanded to include the camembert-style Shamembert, brie-like Bree, the Boursin-style Herbi and a spreadable mature cheddar alternative.

The brand also overcame a major technical challenge – and potential hurdle to mainstream supermarket listings – by extending the shelf life of the brand’s cheeses from two weeks to 28 days.

Moore isn’t stopping there, though. He is currently trialling a hard cheddar-style variant, which is set to launch later this year.

His ambitions are playing out well with investors. The brand raised more than £770k on Seedrs this summer, smashing its £450k target. The round was led by £250k from specialist investment firm Veg Capital, alongside 500 or so other investors.

Using those funds, Honestly Tasty is looking to expand its sales teams and employ a marketing manager. It will also roll out a rebrand and focus on B2B marketing in the coming months, as it looks to secure wider wholesale and retail listings.

“We are poised to grow massively,” says Moore, pointing out that Honestly Tasty currently uses just 15% of its factory capacity. “If a retailer says they want 10,000 cheeses next week, we can do it. I really wanted that certainty, because you only get one chance at this sort of thing.”