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From the Forest City: New Markets with Nuts for Cheese

Welcome to From the Forest City – your source for exciting ideas, innovations, and expertise coming out of London, Canada.

In these videos brought to you by the LEDC, you’ll soon discover why companies are investing and growing in London, and how their talented teams and products are making an impact. You’ll hear from growing local businesses about how they're expanding into new markets, launching new products, making investments, and local industry experts on topics that are relevant to your business. Every now and then we will speak with experts outside of London who have valuable insights to share with local businesses.


Episode 2

We are speaking with Margaret Coons, Founder and CEO, and Candace Campbell, Business Development Manager at Nuts for Cheese, which produces a 100% dairy-free vegan, certified organic, gluten-free, and GMO-free cheese, handcrafted in Canada. Despite the challenges COVID-19 has created for small businesses, Nuts for Cheese has grown their product line to include butter and is starting to expand into the United States. We talk to Margaret and Candace about how they've expanded despite travel restrictions and how the food industry is evolving.

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My name is Margaret Coons, I’m the founder and CEO at Nuts for Cheese. I'm Candace Campbell and recently joined the team here at Nuts for Cheese. My title is business development manager, so I focused primarily on our U.S expansion which is really exciting. We are a vegan, cashew cheese manufacturing company, so we make 100% dairy free, organic, fair trade vegan cheeses out of fermented cashew milk. We've got 6 flavors of cheese and then we just recently launched 2 flavors of butter that we're selling nationally across Canada and just launching into the US as well.

I started the company about five years ago. We have grown a lot over the last five years and you know, outgrown a few production spaces, really grown our team. I think that I was employee #20, and we're already at about 30, so there's been rapid growth even in just about the 3 1/2 months, four months that I've been here. When I was first a young vegan, there was not a lot of really good vegan cheese available in the market, and you know, there really wasn't until recently I think a great vegan butter option as well. There are a few companies that are making small batch, you know, high quality vegan butter, but really primarily what's mostly available is really highly processed palm oil product and that's kind of the only things available for vegans.

I'm super excited about it, we've been working on it for about a year and a half. We've been doing R&D on it the whole time and we just launched it in June so all of our distributors nationally in Canada have picked it up and we're launching it in the states in the fall as well as 2 flavors there’s a salted original and an urban garlic. The salted original really works like a one to one replacement for daily butter in baking like I've made puff pastry, I made pie crusts, i've made like you know, all of the mother sauces with it and then the urban garlic butter is like awesome for garlic bread or sauteing mushrooms.

Before you can even get your product into the states, there's a lot of work that has to happen in the background, so we had to get a lot of certifications. We had to get new packaging for the US. They have a different nutritional label. All of this kind of happened. Pre-COVID and even pre-me joining the team. We've been really fortunate to continue to see lots of volume increasing in the US. We're actually in four states already and we just got our first PO from a distributor out there, so we anticipate that will continue to grow. One of the challenges has obviously been, you know, the lack of international travel had to kind of pivot, we've put a lot more money into really strategic and targeted digital marketing, trying to hit the consumers and increase that brand awareness.

We also have a US based consultant, so his name is David and he's in California, so I think having him and his background in the natural product category I think we're going to target kind of the West Coast with the goal to grow regionally as we kind of did in Canada, starting in London, then we grew into Ontario and then within three to five years available across Canada. We kind of think that that will be the similar approach that we take into US.

What I thought when we first started the company was that, like our consumer base is going to be primarily vegans and vegetarians. But what I learned over the years is that there's just so many people that have dietary sensitivities, their doctors told them to avoid dairy, there's been a huge shift, I think as you can see, like with the natural food sections being built at grocery stores, and even just like consumer habits. Our priority always is going to be those champion consumers, and brand ambassadors that we've had from the beginning, like our local markets.

We really want to maintain a really strong presence in Canada but of course we do want to grow the company as well. Trying to say really true to our roots and really grassroots in our approach as we're continuing to scale. I think really our biggest sort of goals are expanding our distribution, increasing our volume and growing our team working together to be able to grow out our capacity in the plant that were in so we don't have to keep taking on unit after unit next door to us every year as a goal for us for sure, and then continuing to grow the distribution and retail partnerships.

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