"I suffered from a lot of health conditions when I was a kid, including chronic headaches and irritable bowel syndrome," she says. "I found that diet really impacted how I felt and being dairy-free made me feel a lot better." But she experienced definite sticker shock when she went grocery shopping for vegan butter, dairy-free cheese, and other alt-products for the first time. "Not only were the products I was seeing more expensive, but the ingredients weren't [high quality] and they didn't taste that great either," she says.
Though she didn't set out to disrupt the plant-based space with more affordable, accessible options, that's exactly what she's doing now with her company Spero Foods, a line of dairy-free cream cheese-style spreads that launched in Whole Foods in March. Spero Foods sells each product for around $5 at Whole Foods, which Randolph says is $1 to $2 cheaper than competing brands. She adds that she is hoping to drop the price even more in the future after the brand is able to scale a bit more. She's still at the beginning of her ambitious plant-based journey—and the future is looking bright.
- Phaedra Randolph, Phaedra Randolph is the founder of Spero Foods, a dairy-free food brand that uses sunflower seeds as its hero ingredient.
Planting the seed to grow a cream cheese dream
"When I started researching why dairy-free foods were so expensive, I learned it was because they're primarily made with nuts, like almonds or cashews, which are expensive," Randolph says—partly because they're in high demand, and partly because they can be labor- and resource-intensive to produce. This realization led her to experiment with sunflower seeds as an alternative base for her products, as they're more allergy-friendly and sustainable than nuts. "It takes 95 percent less water to grow sunflower seeds than it does nuts, which is pretty astounding," Randolph says. Plus, sunflower seeds are a rich source of protein, healthy fats, and magnesium.
But using the seeds to create the perfect cream cheese wasn't easy—especially since Randolph only wanted to use ingredients people could easily recognize. "There are a lot of plant-based products out there that are super processed and not all that great for you," she says. After some experimentation, the final Spero cream cheese recipe uses organic sunflower seeds, water, coconut oil, salt, probiotic cultures, and natural flavors.
The pandemic pivot
As a new brand, Randolph says in-store sampling was incredibly important: tasting truly is believing. (We're partial to The Herb, which tastes like a convincing plant-based dupe of Boursin or other herb cheese spreads.) But once COVID-19 hit, sampling was no longer an option. As a result, she says Spero has pivoted to focusing more on social media marketing as well as expanding their growing product line. Prior to the pandemic, fun flavors like red pepper and cinnamon were already available, but in October the brand came out with two new flavors: pumpkin and strawberry. And just last month the brand announced its latest flavor addition: chocolate.
That's not all, either. Randolph says they've been hard at work innovating around new ways to expand the brand beyond just cream cheese, although just what that next wave of products will be is still under wraps. Whatever comes next, Randolph says we can be sure it will be true to the brand's mission of being made with whole food ingredients and be delicious as well as affordable—the three pillars that have been important to her from the start.
The seed she planted isn't done growing just yet.
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