good culture has been notching up “explosive growth” over the past year, co-founder Jesse Merril told FoodNavigator-USA: “Our sales were up in 2016 over 17x vs prior year and we are on pace to experience triple digit growth in 2017. Key accounts have told us that we are turning as fast as or better than some of their top single-serve yogurt brands and our velocity has almost doubled since last year in established accounts.”
However, price had proved a barrier to securing shelf space in some larger retail accounts for the organic line, said Merrill, who has just launched the new natural SKUs at Harris Teeter, Publix and Stater Bros. Markets (MSRP 1.69 vs $1.99-$2.49 for the organic SKUs).
He added: “As you see an increase in supply of organic milk and as pricing comes down, I do think there will be a larger opportunity to grow organic though conventional channels, but frankly it’s been a challenge. The natural range allows us to reach a broader audience that still has all the key attributes consumers are looking for from our brand.”
No milk protein concentrates, gums, starches and preservatives
The natural range, which features grass-fed whole milk, has exactly the same high-protein, low-sugar, clean label credentials that good culture is known for, but isn’t organic, he said (good culture products don’t contain milk protein concentrates, gums, starches, stabilizers and preservatives).
“We offer a more premium, simple ingredient, grass-fed product [an attribute that will be called out more prominently in the next iteration of the packaging] that is still accessible, both in taste and price. We want our consumers to eat real food.
“Our organic and natural ranges never use gums, preservatives, protein concentrates or artificial anything. We have also developed a proprietary recipe that delivers a thicker/creamier soft curd experience, and this is consistent across the natural and organic range.
"We also have plans to support our new distribution with loud marketing efforts and an integrated campaign to build awareness."
The flavors in the natural line up - strawberry, blueberry, pineapple and plain - are more mainstream than those in the organic range, which features more culinary-inspired flavors such as strawberry chia, blueberry chia acai, and kalamata olive, said Merrill.
"Savory requires some heavier lifting, but the kalamata olive is doing very well."
However, the sundried tomato SKU in the original lineup has been replaced with pineapple, which has broader appeal if you don’t have a massive sampling and education budget to prove to people that sundried tomato and cottage cheese is actually a pretty cool combination, he said.
A rising tide lifts all boats
So what’s the progress on good culture’s broader mission to revitalize the sleepy $1.1bn cottage cheese category? And does the recent entrance of brands such as Muuna – which is also trying to reposition its wares as high-protein snacks in single serve packaging – help or hinder this mission?
The arrival of Muuna and others “only validates what we have been saying since we launched,” claimed Merrill, who said rivals were equally intent on getting retail buyers, and consumers, to rethink the possibilities when it came to cottage cheese.
“It’s really exciting for me to see all these other players; when you are trying to do this all by yourself it requires a lot of heavy lifting. When we started talking to retailers, it was a case of just trying a few SKUs, but now they are looking to build a single serve set.”
Beyond cottage cheese?
Irvine, CA-based good culture - which raised $5.1m in 2016 in two rounds led by CAVU Venture Partners and General Mills’ venture arm 301 Inc – is also considering moves into several other adjacent categories further down the road, although its immediate focus is cottage cheese, said Merrill.
“Over time there’s an opportunity to extend the brand, but right now we are staying hyper focused.”