BALTIMORE — Not “your grandma’s watery curd” is how the founders of Good Culture describe the brand’s organic cottage cheese. Products are made with whole milk from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows and are free of stabilizers and additives. Flavors include plain, strawberry chia, blueberry acai chia, kalamata olive and, the latest addition, pineapple, which debuted at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 21-24 in Baltimore. (The brand previously offered a sun-dried tomato flavor, which has since been discontinued).
|Jesse Merrill, co-founder and c.e.o. of Good Culture|
“Pineapple was something that we initially didn’t launch with because we wanted to launch with more disruptive innovation from a flavor perspective, and pineapple has historically been a very popular add-in with cottage cheese,” Jesse Merrill, co-founder and chief executive officer, told Food Business News during an interview at Expo East. “But consumer request for pineapple was big, so we decided to give them what they wanted.”
Why cottage cheese? Mr. Merrill said the category has been “begging for innovation.”
“When you look at the cottage cheese category, it’s a $1.1 billion category versus yogurt, which is an $8 billion category, so small relative to yogurt but still a sizable category that has been sleepy,” he said. “When you look at the health benefits, it’s loaded with protein, low sugar, clean ingredient deck — it really ticks a lot of boxes in terms of what consumers are looking for in food. So there’s a real opportunity to disrupt a sleepy category and try to bring cottage cheese back to the forefront.”
Here’s what makes Good Culture different, according to Mr. Merrill: “Just in the way we’re packaging it — single-serve, fruit on the bottom — I think the usage occasion we’re driving is more relevant and more accessible. The flavor assortment we’re providing is more relevant...
“I think it’s a matter of re-presenting a nostalgic food in a way that is more relevant, and if we do that effectively, then we feel more confident that there will be a sizable audience for this category.”
Earlier in September, Los Angeles-based Good Culture closed on a $3 million round of strategic funding led by existing investors CAVU Venture Partners and 301 INC, the business development and venture unit of General Mills. The company also received a new investment from the Eisner family through Anders Eisner, co-founder and chairman of the board. This followed a $2.1 million strategic funding round in March, also led by 301 INC and CAVU, an investment firm co-founded by three food and beverage industry veterans.
“What’s great about the 301 INC team is they are very much in the trenches with us,” Mr. Merrill said. “They have robust capabilities across many different functions. We don’t have a dedicated sales force within General Mills, but when we need assistance, they’re certainly there, and we can tap their shoulder and get help as needed. They help us a lot in the R.&D. space, in manufacturing, they helped us conduct consumer research. They’re very helpful both from a strategic perspective but also executional, which is really nice.
“CAVU is also very hands-on and provides a lot of unparalleled support from proven operators.”
These strategic partnerships will help Good Culture expand into more markets and continue to drive innovation, said John Haugen, vice-president and general manager of 301 INC, in an interview with Food Business News.
“Our No. 1 objective is, how do we make these products more accessible to consumers, and how do we help accelerate their growth?” Mr. Haugen said. “It’s so on-trend… When I say ‘cottage cheese’ is one thing, but if I say ‘high-protein, grass-fed dairy snack’ and ‘superior to Greek yogurt from a nutrition deck perspective,’ you understand what a big opportunity that is.”
Good Culture uses a proprietary recipe that results in a thicker, creamier texture than that of traditional cottage cheese, Mr. Merrill said. The products, which first hit shelves last August, are sold nationwide in 1,500 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Market and Sprouts Farmers Market. The brand plans to expand into conventional grocery stores next year. As for sales performance, “We’re over 10 times sales from last year,” Mr. Merrill said.
For now, the company remains “hyper-focused” on cottage cheese but may eventually expand into other categories.“I certainly think the Good Culture brand can extend itself to other adjacent categories in other cultured dairy or even beyond that,” Mr. Merrill said. “There’s things we’re looking at down the path, but for now we’re going to remain 100% focused on building and disrupting cottage cheese.”