Margaret Coons’ Nuts For Cheese artisanal vegan cheese line has gone from one-woman show to nine-worker firm on the grow in two years.
Margaret Coons was only 12 when she started crafting plant-based meals in her family’s kitchen. The lone vegetarian in a house full of carnivores, she loved making herself delicious meatless meals. Little did Coons know that her lifestyle choice would see her become a professional chef and full-fledged entrepreneur. Today, Coons, 26, is the founder of London-based Nuts For Cheese, a line of artisan, handcrafted and vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews. All her cheeses are dairy-free, gluten-free and can be shredded, spread, sliced or melted, just like the real deal. Available in such flavours as Un-brielievable, Chipotle Cheddar and Smoky Artichoke and Herb, they’ve become a hit with vegans and non-vegans alike. “If people are brave enough to try it, the feedback is usually good,” Coons says. Since its launch in 2015, Nuts For Cheese has grown from a one-woman show into a company with nine employees, two distributors and 70 retailers — impressive growth, considering Coons has no formal business training or investor support. “I bootstrapped everything from the beginning,” she says. “It’s been a huge growth experience.” As a chef at London’s former Veg Out restaurant, Coons would rent kitchen space after her evening shifts and work late into the night crafting wheels of cheese to sell Saturday mornings at the Western Fair Farmers Market. She knew Nuts For Cheese had potential when retailers interested in carrying her products started contacting her via her Instagram page. “Before I even started at the market, I was getting retail requests from stores that were finding me on social media,” Coons says. “That really made me jump into figuring out how to make this happen.” In the early days, Coons did everything: She made the product, packaged it and drove it out to retailers. Initially, most of Nuts For Cheese’s growth was organic, because she had no time for sales and marketing. Over the last two years, business has boomed. Nuts For Cheese outgrew two production facilities in less than a year, before moving to its current home: an industrial kitchen in southwest London that she shares with juice company Pulp & Press. Today, Coons says she spends most of her days behind a laptop, communicating with customers, working on mar keting and sales, and striving to rein in costs to boost profits. Occasionally, she helps out her team in the kitchen. She plans to add two more cheese flavours to her lineup this year and hopes to get her products on shelves coast-tocoast. Currently, Nuts For Cheese is sold in Ontario, Quebec and Eastern Canada. After two whirlwind years of growth, Coons also is looking forward to improving her work-life balance. “The past couple years have been so crazy, it’s been hard to sit back and enjoy it,” she says. “One of my goals this year is to take a little more time for pleasure and enjoy the exciting stuff that’s happening because it’s easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed.”