Julie Feickert explained to FoodNavigator-USA at SOHO Expo in Orlando Dec. 6 that eight years ago when Cultures for Health first began selling DIY kits to make fermented food such as yogurt, tempeh and cheese, most consumers were “hardcore foodies” and other “niche” consumer groups who had food allergies or were following the GAPS diet to manage chronic inflammation and digestive health concerns.
But, “about a year and a half ago it started to shift pretty drastically and it has been moving more towards the mainstream, which has been fascinating to watch,” she said.
She explained her main consumer base went from being “folks making all of their own food at home to being people who only made one thing,” she said, adding, “We were starting to work with a lot of people who never even turned on the oven.”
Feickert attributes the shift of mainstream shoppers to DIY kits in part to “more and more people having diet related conditions, gut health conditions that are pushing them to step back and say, ‘I need to control my food. I need to up the number of probiotics that I am eating. I need to ultimately have a real handle on what my food is’ so that they will be healthy long term.”
She also attributes the increased interested in DIY food kits to easy access to more information via social media, “which has been very helpful in spreading information and normalizing the idea of eating food where we know what the ingredients are versus whatever packaged stuff we find at the store.”
Jamie Oliver’s television shows about food also have been “a really great thing for us because it started people thinking about the importance of making their own food at home,” she said.
Food safety concerns and home budget constraints also are prompting people to make their own food, she said.
All these factors fit well with Cultures for Health’s mission “to help people go back and understand how do we create safe, healthy and nutritionally dense food at home using techniques that have been used by humans for thousands of years -- arguably back at a time when we had way less health problems, too,” Feickert said.
Welcoming new consumers
To better serve these new consumers, Cultures for Health simplified the instructions on its DIY kits to make fermentation less intimidating and more welcoming, Feickert said.
She explained the old instructions included detailed descriptions of what happened to the food at each step and why each action was important, but now the directions are more basic and easier to absorb by consumers who are busier and just want to “get it done,” she said.
The company also expanded the line of kits available to include some that are “old hat” for foodies and those who ferment their own food often, such as sourdough starter, but which are new to many mainstream shoppers.
One of the company’s newest kits, which launched just six weeks ago, is also one its best selling kits: the vegan yogurt kit.
“Yogurt can seem a little bit intimidating, so we wanted to put a kit together that had all the supplies minus the yogurt maker … so they could just go home, get on our website” and make the product, she said.
Other top sellers include the company’s water Kefir and Kombucha kits, both of which are trending beverages with dedicated followers, Feickert said.
The company’s cheese kits also are popular with families and children as a group activity they can then enjoy together at dinner, she said.
The company has a “brisk” online business through its website and Amazon and sells its kits through 500 stores nationwide, but as Feickert noted the business is primed for expansion.
Looking forward, she added, DIY kits like the ones that Cultures for Health sells are “the future of our society.”
She explained: “People just want a grab-and-go item … and if this is what we have to do to make some people eat healthier then so be it.”