Cottage cheese. Did that phrase send a shiver down your spine? Or did it make your eyes light up with anticipation?
It’s typically one or the other – you either really love it, or you really hate it. And it’s fair to say that unless you grew up in the 70’s, you probably hate it.
But what if cottage cheese was different? What if the texture was thick and creamy, instead of slimy and soupy? What if it was made with high-quality protein-rich cheese, and without additives like gum, thickeners, stabilizers and chemical preservatives? Would you be willing to give it another shot, or are you married to yogurt forever?
These are the questions Jesse Merrill, Co-Founder and C.E.O of Good Culture, asked about cottage cheese, a $1.1 billion category that, for the most part, has lacked innovation and real flavor over the last few decades. After watching the $8 million yogurt category steal the show, Merrill decided it was time to tap into a cottage cheese revolution.
“When we launched Good Culture, we never said that we were launching a cottage cheese company,” Merrill says. “We said that we wanted to create a disruptive real food company that initially focused on better cultured dairy. This is something that we are very passionate about.”
Good Culture, Good Protein
Good Culture actually ticks all the boxes when it comes to what consumers are looking for: a convenient on-the-go snack, high in nutrients, low in sugar and carbs, with one of the highest-quality proteins available.
“The protein in Good Culture…promotes fullness and helps with weight loss,” Merrill says. “Our product has more protein and less sugar than most of the yogurts in the marketplace and we only use real food, simple ingredients, and pasture-raised milk from a co-op in the Midwest.” Cottage cheese can also optimize muscle recovery and prevent muscle breakdown, which is common with age.
Good Culture considers itself very separate from the yogurt category, but the company still take cues from consumers who typically shop for yogurt in their serving sizes and packaging. “Our single-serve format is certainly more intuitive for the yogurt shopper, but single-serve cottage cheese is fully incremental from a day part standpoint,” Merrill says. “While yogurt is primarily enjoyed at breakfast and as a late-morning snack, cottage cheese is enjoyed during lunch and dinner hours. To that point, we feel that yogurt and cottage cheese live together harmoniously and complement each other.”
When Good Culture first launched, Merrill saw an opportunity to create disruption with a line of savory cottage cheese products. “While the products were delicious and are still probably some of my favorite varieties, it was too far away from what our consumer was looking for,” he says.
What they were looking for was sweeter. Good Culture decided to drop the savory line and focus on small containers with organic fruit on the bottom. It created a common middle ground where yogurt consumers could bridge over to cottage cheese, creating accessibility and familiarity in a relatively unknown category.
Pumping Up Portable Protein
Merrill identified two ways that Good Culture plans to grow his delicious cottage cheese company: by focusing on current consumers, and bringing in new consumers.
Currently, the category is driven by women 45+, who tend to shop for older, outdated brands like Breakstone’s and Knudsen. “We are converting the current category buyers and increasing their buy rate – this is the low-hanging fruit,” says Merrill.
The real challenge lies with recruiting new consumers, who are either unfamiliar with cottage cheese, or have been turned off due to their experience with lesser quality brands. Elevating the category with convenient portability, delicious taste and texture, and high-quality, sourced ingredients goes hand in hand with reaching Millenials and Gen-Xers.
“We receive a load of emails from new consumers who tell us that they never thought they liked cottage cheese until tasting Good Culture. In fact, we recently did a Nielsen panel pull where we found that we were one of the only cottage cheese brands bringing younger consumer segments into the category,” says Merrill. “That is extremely validating.”
In September 2018, the Los Angeles-based company 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.
Getting Personal with Protein
Using only clean, simply ingredients was especially important to Merrill. In 2015, he was diagnosed with an autoimmune gut disease.
“I was told that I would need to live on harsh drugs for the rest of my life and that what I consumed had zero correlation to my symptoms or overall gut health,” says Merrill.
He found a new more integrative doctor, who encouraged him to follow a strict “real food” diet. He removed all foods that contained gums, thickeners, preservatives, and emulsifiers, and only ate simple, real foods, like grass-fed animal protein, grass-fed dairy, veggies, and fruits.
After three years on this diet, Merrill had effectively healed himself. “My last test showed that I was 100% free of my ‘chronic’ autoimmune disease,” he says. “This was clearly an emotional experience that validated my belief in food as medicine. Everything that we do at Good Culture needs to focus on putting out real foods that heal.”