Fellow Creatures founder Zsolt Stefkovics taste tested ‘literally every’ dairy-free chocolate in the UK, and beyond, before launching his plant-based brand. “I found they were all missing the creaminess, sweetness and fun we all remember from our childhood,” he told FoodNavigator.
Further, the founder noted that ‘most’ other vegan chocolates on the market used rice milk instead of dairy. Rice milk is ‘very cheap’, he explained, and creates a chocolate that is ‘far inferior’ and often ‘sickly sweet’ in taste.
From a texture perspective, such offerings often don’t ‘melt as smoothly in the mouth’, Stefkovics added: “So, I set out to make my own.”
Swapping out dairy for coconut
Vegan chocolate can be developed in a myriad of ways. Having experimented for more than 12-months, Stefkovics – who teamed up with entrepreneur Fraser Doherty, of start-ups SuperJam and Beer52 fame – launched his chocolate in February 2020 with coconut cream instead of dairy.
“For me, it was very important to achieve a texture that doesn’t melt in the fingers, but melts nicely in the mouth – without leaving a nasty aftertaste or an oily coating,” he explained.
The founder’s interest in dairy alternatives came to him slightly later in life. In fact, Stefkovics grew up in a very un-vegan environment, with a grandfather who ran a dairy farm and an uncle who worked as a livestock trader.
Although conditioned to eat meat and dairy, he admits he ‘always felt that the exploitation of animals just wasn’t right’. Times have now changed, he continued, with consumer awareness building around the health and environmental benefits of more plant-heavy diets.
Rather than singling out the vegan or flexitarian markets, Stefkovics’ objective is to create a range with ‘something for everyone’. “We created Milkless Hazelnut for the crunch-lovers, Raspberry White for those who are desperate for vegan white chocolate with a twist, Salted Caramel for those who can’t decide between sweet and savoury, Matcha White for the adventurers, and our staple Milkless for myself.
“It is easy to get dark chocolate that is vegan, so our range focuses on milk and white-style chocolate – which is much harder to find without dairy.”
Apart from being ‘unbelievably creamy’, Fellow Creatures stands out in another way: its packaging.
Described as eye-catching, colourful, and fun by its founder, the packaging design features ‘fun and curvy’ characters. “They are half-human and half-animal,” Stefkovics explained. “They celebrate not only that animals are our fellows, but also that we should be positive about our bodies whatever shape they are.”
The founder described himself as a ‘flamboyant kid’ when growing up in the early 2000s in Eastern Europe. Having been ‘picked on’ for this, he was determined to bring body positivity into the brand messaging.
On another positive note, Fellow Creatures is ‘healthier’ than standard dairy chocolate, we were told. “On average, our range contains 30% less sugar than conventional chocolate bars such as [Mars Inc’s] Galaxy or [Mondelēz-owned Cadbury] Dairy Milk.”
Sustainability & accessibility
Sustainability is key to Fellow Creatures’ brand profile. By replacing dairy with plant-based alternatives, the start-up aims to be ‘kinder to animals and the planet’. But its sustainability goals go further still.
Fellow Creatures sources its cocoa beans directly from growing communities, and pays farmers 60% more than the Fairtrade price. “We are in the process of becoming a B-Corp and through working directly with cocoa cooperatives, we have full traceability of the supply chain.”
The brand is also conscious of price. While Fellow Creatures sits at the premium end of the chocolate category, it would still ‘sit comfortably’ within the fixture of mainstream supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. “Our pricing is similar to existing plant-based chocolates currently on sale,” said the start-up founder.
As it stands, Fellow Creatures is stocked in all Planet Organic stores, and has listings in around 50 independents across the country. To date, the majority of sales have come from its D2C channel. “We have big plans for developing our online store and chocolate subscription club,” Stefkovics revealed.
What’s next for Fellow Creatures?
Fellow Creatures, which is currently raising investment to scale up the brand via e-commerce and retail channels, was recently accepted into ProVeg International’s incubator programme – designed to help develop innovative alternatives to animal-based products and related technologies.
Start-ups selected into ProVeg’s fifth cohort each receive €20,000 and are eligible for up to an additional €180,000 in funding following the completion of the three-month programme.
“ProVeg International’s programme is a fantastic opportunity for us to learn from other food and drink entrepreneurs and to share this exciting period of our company’s development with the other start-ups in the cohort,” said Stefkovics.
“We have been learning from food scientists, engineers and a variety of experts who are really helping to accelerate our development.”