A pressed cottage cheese that’s high in protein and low in fat and popular in Eastern Europe, farmer’s cheese has traditionally been sold in tubs alongside other cheeses by some US retailers, said Jeff Flynn, VP at Irvine, CA-based ISnak Corporation (doing business as Yooli Foods), which he co-founded with his wife Yuliya, who grew up in Kazakhstan where farmer’s cheese snacks are very popular.
Yooli, however, sees a new opportunity in high-protein, portable farmer’s cheese snacks, and is positioning its cups (with 16-17g protein and 120 calories per 125g cup with an MSRP of c.$1.99) as a ‘rich, creamy, satisfying alternative to yogurt,’ and its refrigerated bars (MSRP c. $1.30-$1.99) as a less processed, refrigerated alternative to traditional protein bars for adults and children.
“We felt there is a whitespace here in North America for these cups positioned as a yogurt alternative. It’s how consumers see the product, while the buyers we’ve spoken to also see Yooli sitting next to brands like [Icelandic yogurt brand] Siggi’s, although it could also sit next to brands such as Good Culture [cottage cheese].
“We had a booth at Idea World Fitness Convention in Las Vegas in July and visitors to our booth were telling us that they could absolutely see themselves eating Yooli cups instead of yogurt in part because of the high protein but also because they liked the 1:1 carb/protein ratio, which is hard to find in a good tasting snack.”
The bars, meanwhile, could potentially sit alongside brands such as Perfect Bar in retailers’ end cap chilled grab & Go/snacking fixtures, in the dairy aisle alongside Yooli cups, or even in the freezer, he said.
“It’s an indulgent healthy snack as you’ve got some dark chocolate in there, but you’re still getting 7g of protein in a 50g bar. I expect Moms will freeze them and drop them into their kids’ lunchboxes so they are ready to eat by lunch time.”
While Lifeway also sells farmer’s cheese in a snackable, slightly larger tub with a re-sealable lid, the Yooli products have a milder, less tart flavor, and are firmly positioned as a yogurt alternative, not as a ‘cheese,’ said Flynn.
“Lifeway’s farmer’s cheese, like most Eastern European farmer’s cheese, has a more acidic, sour taste. There’s also a boutique cheese company in Berkeley called Belfiore http://belfiorecheese.com/ which makes Russian-style farmer’s cheese with a low pH, whereas ours has a higher level of protein and a more neutral taste.”
A woman-owned company based in Irvine co-founded by Yuliya and Jeff Flynn, ISnak Corporation (d.b.a. Yooli Foods) was one of five dairy companies selected to participate in a three-month dairy accelerator program run by Land O Lakes in Minneapolis this fall.
Novel production process
The Flynns have struck deals with a SQF level 3 certified co-packer in Wisconsin to manufacture the cups and sourced bespoke equipment to make the bars at a nearby location, he explained.
“We had originally planned to make the bars first, and in many respects the buyers we’ve spoken to have been even more excited about the bars than the cups, but it was very hard to find a co-packer able to make the bars, because it’s a new concept and there was really no equipment to form the bars, so there was a huge credentialing of equipment manufacturers overseas we had to go through to get this off the ground.
“We’ve also acquired a sophisticated piece of equipment that will co-extrude a stream of strawberry into the center of one of our bars before it is coated with chocolate.
“Most cheese processors didn’t have the real estate for all this equipment,” he added, “but we were able to find an economic development zone facility 10 minutes from our co-packer [of the cups], so we bought all the equipment – mixing, extrusion, cooling tunnels and so on - and trial runs will begin in about two weeks, so it will probably be mid-December before the bars are in our distributor’s warehouse.”
Deal with Organic Valley
Both products will be picked up by Organic Valley – which has its HQ in Wisconsin – cross-docked and put in trucks going to warehouses across the country, said Flynn, who has struck deals with distributors on the east coast (UNFI subsidiary Albert’s Organics) and the west coast (DPI Specialty Foods): “We can get our product very rapidly to everywhere from Boston to Seattle.”
The bars – which have a c.35-day refrigerated shelf-life - can be shipped frozen and thawed later, said Flynn.
“For efficiency it works to our advantage to manufacture and freeze them so we can build up inventory, and then as they go through the distribution system they could go onto a refrigerated truck and by the time the pallets get to the distribution center of whoever the buyer is, the bars are fully slacked out and ready to go into the display case.”
"I think that the concept behind Yooli is interesting, but I wonder how many American consumers even know what 'Farmer's cheese' is? Because of that, I think that it may be an expensive and drawn out proposition trying to sell what to many consumers is going to be seen as an unknown type of product.
Greek yogurt became popular partly because consumers could relate to it. Greek yogurt is like 'regular' yogurt, but is thicker. The same frame of reference does not exist for 'Farmer's cheese.' Cottage cheese generally has curds, but this product looks more like yogurt...As for the protein concept, there are so many ways to consume protein these days that this feature in itself is not all that remarkable.
The chilled dairy case is home to some of the most prized (and expensive) real estate in the entire supermarket, so nailing down distribution there is going to be expensive. Consumers are also not expecting to see a product like this there, which adds to the difficulty in launching a product like this.
One factor which could help Yooli is that the yogurt category continues to fragment with new formats of yogurt beginning to gain traction, like Icelandic yogurt, Australian yogurt, Swiss yogurt, etc. This suggests that retailers are willing to free up space for newcomers and would at least be willing to give this one a try."
Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director, GlobalData
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