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Local Manufacturer Ditches Cows for Cashews
Published Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Nuttin Ordinary's cashew cheese stuffed ravioli. Courtesy photo.

Growing up in a vegan household in the 80s wasn’t always easy for Josh D. Velasquez. It would be decades until meat substitutes, non-dairy milks and other animal-free products would become as common in grocery stores as they are today. Now an aspiring entrepreneur, Velasquez has capitalized on the rising popularity of plant-based foods with Nuttin Ordinary in Harrisville, a cashew cheese spread made with a proprietary probiotic blend.

Velasquez and his then-partner, Adam Hamilton, now a vice president at People’s United Bank, originally intended to open a vegan restaurant that served plant-based products made on site, including nut cheeses and milks. But after assessing the work-life balance of the restaurant industry, they decided to pursue a dairy-free product line instead. “As a food manufacturer, someone’s out there buying our products even after I’ve gone to bed,” says Velasquez. “But with restaurants, you have to be there if you want to make a dollar.”

The duo began experimenting with different products in 2011 and eventually found success with their cashew cheese, which became popular among family and friends. “We weren’t testing this on vegans,” says Velasquez. “We were trying this out on our regular meat-and-cheese-loving friends, and they loved it.”

Josh Velasquez, owner of Nuttin Ordinary. Courtesy photo.

The pair launched their first test kitchen in 2013 and made their first sale by the end of the year. That same year, they debuted at Boston Veg Food Fest, which has become an annual pilgrimage for the company along with appearances at other vegan food festivals in New York City and Washington D.C.

Business skyrocketed in 2014 after Whole Foods agreed to carry Nuttin Ordinary in six of its stores. The company’s products are now sold in more than 100 locations, including 38 of Whole Foods’ 41 New England stores as well as independent food markets and co-ops throughout the region. Velasquez says sales have experienced “double digit” month-to-month growth in 2017 and are on track to hit 100 percent annual growth by the end of the year. In 2016, Nuttin Ordinary sold 27,000 units of cheese. “We came into the market at the right time,” he adds. “When we started working on this in 2011, there were maybe one or two companies in the country making vegan cheese. But now, the plant-based food industry is growing pretty rapidly.”

Nuttin Ordinary now employs 10 at a 1,500-square-foot facility in Harrisville, where the company manufactures just under 400 cases of cashew cheese a week in four varieties—original, Italian herb, cracked pepper and spicy. Velasquez intends to roll out a new product every two years, including plans to develop plant-based ice cream, salad dressings and cashew cheese condiment packets.

The company’s latest products include cashew cheese stuffed frozen ravioli released in 2015 and cashew/coconut Greek yogurt scheduled for release in 2018. Additionally, the company is marketing its cheese products to the institutional market—cafeterias at universities, large corporations and retirement homes—as well as restaurant franchises.

With plans to relocate to a 5,000-square-foot facility in Peter-borough to accommodate growth, Velasquez says it’s time to go national with his “small New England brand.” The company placed its products at Roots Market in Maryland and signed with organic food distributor Albert’s Organics, which has seven national distribution centers and New England headquarters in Chesterfield.

Velasquez is also looking for support from angel investors familiar with the food industry. For more information, visit nuttinordinary.com.

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