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Kraft’s newest Mac & Cheese is ditching cheese

Kraft’s new Mac & Cheese is ditching the cheese and going vegan.

For the first-time ever, the household staple is going plant-based with a new version of the boxed favorite that contains a dairy-free alternative to its signature cheese. It’s called “Kraft NotMac&Cheese” and will soon roll out on grocery store shelves in two flavors — original and white cheddar with shells — each priced at $3.49 per box.

Kraft partnered with NotCo., a company that makes plant-based foods, to create the new mac and cheese alternative, which is in response the growing hunger for “better-for-you” products from American consumers.

The company is joining a growing trend: Plant-based product sales surged 19% last year to $11 billion, according to research firm NIQ.

But there’s a risk for Kraft, too: Customers who have tried dairy-free alternatives sometimes don’t like the taste – and they often don’t give brands a second chance.

“Curiosity is a major factor in trying plant-based foods and beverages,” Sherry Frey, vice president of Total Wellness at NIQ, told CNN. “Those who tried animal product alternatives once or twice but did not continue said taste was the biggest reason. This was highest for the dairy milk alternatives.”

Consumers continue to show interest in dairy-free alternatives, and NIQ anticipates the category will continue to grow.

“In order to keep them repeating their purchases, it will be imperative the products deliver on taste,” Frey told CNN.

In a press release, Kraft said that less than 30% of consumers end up becoming repeat purchasers of similar plant-based mac and cheese products because “taste and texture remain their largest pain points.” However, the company believes that the “iconic” Kraft Mac & Cheese brand will “address consumers’ plant-based preferences and evolving needs” with its creamy texture that buyers are familiar with.

The vegan cheese sauce is made with fava bean protein and coconut oil powder, creating a sauce that has a “similar taste, look and feel to dairy-based mac and cheese,” the company told CNN.

The 85-year-old brand faces more competition than ever from younger companies that bill themselves as healthier alternatives. Goodles, for example, is a Gal Gadot-backed startup that sells boxed pasta with more protein and fiber at a higher price that also has a plant-based mac and cheese in its portfolio. Banza, Daiya and Annie’s also make similar products.

The Kraft Heinz Company (KHC) has also found itself at a crossroads amid changing consumer tastes for processed foods. It has been examining and revamping its portfolio of foods in an effort to increase the company’s net sales by $2 billion through 2027.

In particular, the Kraft brand recently rolled out a makeover of its Kraft Singles cheeses that emphasizes the cheese doesn’t have artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The new packaging also includes a new graphic that says, “made with real dairy.”

Last year, Kraft also tweaked the name of its boxed macaroni and cheese to “Kraft Mac & Cheese,” which is “meant to reflect the way fans organically talk about the brand.” The packaging also got a makeover with a refreshed logo and a single-hue blue box color that “amplifies the brand’s most recognizable asset — the noodle smile.”

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