Although it may seem like magic, every product that lands on grocery shelves has an incredible team behind it. Vevan is no exception, and one of the powerhouses who turned an awesome idea for dairy-free cheese into a delicious reality is Lize Willers. Meet this leading lady for the Vevan brand and learn more about how it came to be.
What was your role in bringing Vevan to life?
As the Vice President of Innovation, I lead product development for all of our company’s new products, from the first kernel of an idea to getting it into grocery stores.
There is a ton that goes into developing, establishing and launching a brand. That means we’re not only creating the concept and working with cheesemakers to create the perfect flavors and textures, but also creating and establishing a brand, from the way it looks in packaging to the way we talk about it.
Of course, it doesn’t all happen directly in the Innovation department. We have exceptional people across nearly every area of our business whose commitment and shared vision make it possible to take an idea – especially one that’s as novel as Vevan, at least for our company – and earn a loyal following as quickly as we have.
How did the idea for Vevan evolve?
As innovators we follow market trends closely, and the explosive growth in the plant-based market is really remarkable. Our parent company (Schuman Cheese) prides itself on being a leader in the cheese category, but this was an area we weren’t touching and it became obvious that we needed to explore it further. One of the things we realized very quickly is that our idea of a great cheese experience doesn’t play out very often in the dairy-free cheese category. Put bluntly: the competition falls short. We knew we could do better.
There was a big catch though: for a company that works mostly with dairy cheese, entering the dairy-free market was more than a step – it felt like an enormous leap. Throughout my professional career I’ve never experienced a paradigm shift as quick as the one that unfolded during those early days.
Fortunately, when we started playing around during the early research and development phase, we quickly realized that we were onto something with great potential and worked tirelessly to perfect our flavor and functionality.
Describe the moment when you realized the idea for Vevan was becoming a reality.
One night, a friend stopped by my house and while we were chatting over a glass of wine, she asked my 14-year-old son to make us a cheese platter. It was early on in our research and development stage and I had brought some samples home from the lab that day. Unbeknownst to Luca, he made this cute little platter using our new plant-based cheese and my cheese-snob friend didn’t leave a crumb. I didn’t say a word.
I remember thinking, “If a European foodie can snack on this in its raw state one month into development, we are definitely onto something.” That’s a moment I’ll never forget!
How is your work with Vevan helping achieve your personal and professional goals?
I thrive on creating! It’s in my blood. Although I have a culinary background, I also get really passionate about evoking emotion through designing a brand with everything from the way the packaging looks to the recipes we create to the words we use to describe it. I absolutely love what I do and am so grateful that the Schuman family entrusts me to create successful brands that are great for the company and feed my soul. From blue sky concepting to being able to drive down the road and see my product on a store shelf is beyond-words rewarding.
What is your proudest Vevan moment so far?
The day our first order shipped! Launching during a global pandemic has certainly been challenging but the commitment from our team is unlike anything I can explain. No doubt – Vevanites rock!
Why are you so passionate about Vevan?
It’s my baby! Bringing a new product into the world is somewhat like motherhood. Together we’re exploring, expanding and learning. One of the aspects of Vevan that I think is really special is the way we’ve brought something to market that allows consumers to feel included again.
We heard again and again during our early research that people who don’t eat dairy miss it – especially cheese! Providing a way for people that haven’t been able to eat cheese – whatever their reason, whether it’s a dietary concern or a lifestyle choice – is a fabulous feeling!
How do you describe Vevan to your friends and family?
My one year old!
What’s your favorite thing to cook with Vevan?
Do you have advice for someone who is considering trying Vevan for the first time?
My inside tip is that Vevan’s best feature is its melt. When you’re melting Vevan, you’ll want to bring up your temperatures quite a bit. Also, it works really well in a microwave. I sometimes even start a panini in the microwave and then finish it off in a pan to get a good even melt and nice toasty crunch on the bread.
What have you learned in your role with Vevan that can inspire other women?
Those dreams, ladies… never give up on them. Never stop visualizing reaching your goals. Plant the seeds and water them daily. Coming from an entrepreneurial background, it’s impossible for me to keep from treating every business as if it is my own. If we do that – if we truly care, nurture and lead by example – we will succeed.