Fellow Creatures is a plant-based chocolate company from the UK developing milk-style and white chocolates. Zsolt Stefkovics founded the startup and Fraser Doherty later joined him as a co-founder. The pair are part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story.
What does your startup do and what is your mission?
Zsolt: I grew up in a very non-vegan environment; my granddad ran a dairy farm and my uncle is a livestock trader. However, as a kid, deep down, I always felt that the exploitation of animals just wasn’t right. Like all of us, I was conditioned to consume dairy and eat meat, and so I became numb to it, growing up.
Times have now changed, thankfully. My little 8-year-old niece can’t bear the thought of consuming an egg ‘from which little chicks are born’. She also objects to eating meat. My family, like many others, accept that we should all be consuming fewer animal products, not only for our health but for the planet.
Although this all sounds very serious, Fellow Creatures is colourful and fun – it truly jumps out on the shelf.
The curvy characters on the wrappers are half-human, half-animal. They celebrate not only the fact that animals are our fellow creatures, but also that we should be positive about our bodies – whatever shape they are. Growing up as a flamboyant kid in the early 2000s in Eastern Europe, I was picked on, so this is something important for me.
We set out on a mission to bring non-vegans closer to a plant-based diet by showing them what vegan food can be. As well as selling through our own D2C platform, we’re listed in all Planet Organic stores in London, as well as many independents, while we have our eyes set on premium supermarket chains in the UK and Europe.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Zsolt: Fellow Creatures was born out of my (unsuccessful) search for creamy, indulgent plant-based chocolate, since becoming vegan. Having tried literally every plant-based chocolate in the UK and beyond, I found they were all missing the creaminess, sweetness, and fun factor that we all remember from childhood.
I found dark chocolates, which are naturally dairy-free, too bitter; and found the holier-than-thou raw chocolates too gritty to my taste. So, I set out to make my own.
Thanks to my obsessive personality, I got into making my own chocolate at home. I invested in some basic equipment and started experimenting with different replacements for dairy in my recipes.
I found that creamed coconut and almond paste are the perfect replacements for dairy. Together, they give products a pleasantly nutty undertone. Having shared my countertop samples with my plant-based friends and family members, I realised I was onto something.
One morning, I took a deep breath and went for it. I commissioned the fun and playful packaging and logo design, which are reminiscent of 90s packaging designs and started looking for a manufacturer who was happy to take on a then crazy-sounding project.
Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project?
Zsolt: I had been working at a food-and-drink brand-development agency that consulted with many food startups. I always wanted to apply what I had learned in order to develop my own brand, and so I set out to launch Fellow Creatures.
Fraser joined me as a co-founder when the product got to market. He had already founded the well-loved UK jam brand SuperJam when he was just 14. He also later co-founded the world’s most successful DTC beer subscription club Beer52.
What are your favourite parts about building your business?
Fraser: Every day brings something new. For us, building a business is a great way to embody our own values through our products. We are truly passionate about promoting a plant-based lifestyle and making it easier and more enjoyable for people to eat products that are made without animal agriculture. We think this is one of the most pressing issues of our generation, for so many reasons, and building a business that promotes these values is something we truly care about.
What have been the main challenges you’ve faced?
Zsolt: What I soon had to realise is that things take so much longer than you’d expect, once other people are involved. It took me about eight months to identify potential manufacturers. Once we’d signed the agreement, it took a further six months to figure out how to upscale countertop recipes without losing their character.
Fraser: It’s tough starting out as a new brand. Perhaps the biggest challenge, as with all new plant-based brands, had to do with perception. A lot of consumers assume that, because something is plant-based, it’s not going to taste good.
We do sampling at non-vegan events and, the people who taste our products are genuinely amazed. They can’t quite believe something ‘vegan’ could be so tasty and indulgent. We plan to do a lot of in-store sampling in order to educate consumers about how great vegan chocolate can taste and, perhaps, make plant-based eating a little more accessible.
What is it that makes your company unique?
Zsolt: It is easy to find plant-based chocolate that is either raw or dark but almost impossible to find premium-quality vegan milk chocolate that does not compromise on taste. I created ‘Milkless’ with a completely new angle in mind; to launch a product that has the exact taste and texture of milk chocolate, without any dairy.
I experimented with a variety of milk replacements and found that using creamed coconut results in a lovely mouthfeel without overpowering coconut notes. I’m also a huge fan of white chocolate. So, after Milkless, I created Raspberry White and Matcha White as well as a Salted Caramel variant. The latter is reminiscent of Caramac, which is a popular childhood favourite.
Fraser: We have ethics at the core of our brand. We fight the exploitation of cocoa farmers by paying more than the fair-trade price for their produce, and save mother cows from exploitation for their milk. Our brand messaging promotes kindness to others and to ourselves. It may be just chocolate but it’s part of something bigger.
Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator?
ProVeg offered us a fantastic chance to learn from mentors, share lessons with other entrepreneurs, and learn from the Incubator team – who have already supported so many great plant-based food and drink brands. We’re super excited to be a part of this programme!
What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?
Fraser: Dairy is over – vegans have long seen it coming. Flexitarians are gradually realising that they feel much better after a no-meat Monday. Or that going dairy-free really clears your facial skin in the long term. Oatly has done loads to bring non-vegans closer to adopting plant-based milk. We want to achieve the same with chocolate.
Zsolt: We set out to become a major plant-based chocolate brand in the UK and beyond. We are currently working on some seasonal, festive flavours, as well as some very exciting new product developments.
Our plan is for the brand to be a platform from which we can extend into other areas of snacking. The mainstream consumer is slowly realising that plant-based eating isn’t that hard. And when it comes to eating plant-based chocolate, it’s now incredibly easy.