Abilova was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA ahead of the Winter Fancy Food Show, where she will be unveiling a new look for her grass-fed quark product line, which launched in 2015 under the Misha brand (a term of endearment in Eastern Europe, where Abilova grew up) and is now being relaunched under the Wünder Creamery brand.
While some US companies such as Vermont Creamery produce quark in larger tubs and position it as a ‘European-style fresh cheese,’ Misha LLC and rival Elli Quark (which launched in 2013) are the only two US players Abiliova is aware of that position it as a grab and go option in the yogurt aisle, despite its ubiquity as a snack in other markets.
“I grew up eating quark in Kazakhstan where I thought of it as a smooth, creamy, flavorful snack. We had a fridge full of cultured dairy products and I’d just eat it when I was feeling hungry because it was filling but healthy and I loved it,” says Abilova. “But then I came here [to the US] and I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
We definitely underestimated the education part
Pronounced “kvark” in German, quark is similar to Greek or Icelandic yogurt or cottage cheese in that it is high in protein but low in fat, says Abilova, but it’s not yogurt (it uses different cultures and lacks yogurt’s sour, tart taste) and it’s not cottage cheese (which also uses different cultures).
Describing it to consumers (who typically like to have a frame of reference when they try something new) as a ‘spoonable cheese,’ however, has proved a barrier to trial, says Abilova, who describes her product as ‘nutrient-rich superdairy’ with a “buttery” and “crazy creamy” flavor/texture.
“I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been an uphill battle and we definitely underestimated the education part of this. The challenge is explaining to consumers what to expect from a cup of quark, and a cup of our quark in particular, and there is not much real estate on a little cup.
“We were asking people to get their heads around two foreign names: quark and Misha and we were asking too much, so we want to make it easier for people are remove any barriers to trial."
While new dairy brand good culture - which is also trying to position itself as a high protein portable snack/yogurt alternative rather than a tub of cheese - has gone through a couple of branding re-vamps in a bid to hone its message, it has some advantages over quark from a marketing perspective in that “at least Americans know what cottage cheese is,” says Misha LLC co-founder Kamilya Abilova.
"We're not selling yogurt or cottage cheese, we're selling quark."
If people try it, they love it
The reason Abilova and co-founders Pierre Forien and Daniyar Chukin have not simply thrown in the towel, however, is that when consumers try their quark, they are “overwhelmingly positive,” she says.
“Some people say, ‘It’s the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted,’ which is funny, but also shows the challenge we have faced. It’s been an uphill battle, but we truly truly believe in it because when people try it, they love it, so we just have to crack the code and find a way of talking about it that makes sense to people.”
The revamped product range - which will be launched in the New York metro area this spring in six flavors - uses whole milk instead of 2% milk, and contains added probiotics, but the protein and sugar content remain the same, says Abilova, who says retailers have been extremely enthusiastic about the new look.
The major change has been the packaging, which calls out protein, probiotics, whole milk and grass fed attributes and has a cleaner design that is more flavor forward, and looks a bit like Icelandic skyr brand Siggi’s (also high in protein and low in sugar), although the typography is very different.
The new brand name ‘Wünder Creamery’ is a nod to the product’s European heritage, but is also a multi-functional name (Wunder means wonder/super/awesome in German), she says.
“We want our consumers to be in touch with their sense of wonder.”
Misha LLC was launched in 2015 by co-founders Kamilya Abilova from Kazakhstan, Pierre Forien from France and Daniyar Chukin from Kyrgyzstan.
To make Wünder Creamery quark, Misha LLC works with co-packers in upstate New York to blend dairy cultures imported from France with locally-sourced, grass-fed milk before straining the product to make a thick and creamy quark with up to 17 grams of protein per cup. Finally, it is gently heated to raise its pH, creating a “no tart yogurt taste that’s crazy creamy and satisfyingly simple,” says cofounder Kamilya Abilova.
Each 5.3oz pot of Wünder Creamery quark is made in upstate New York with four cups of grass-fed milk, and contains up to 17g of protein plus a small amount of cane sugar, says co-founder Kamilya Abilova: “It’s got a thicker denser texture than Greek yogurt, but a milder flavor.”
While securing any real estate in the dairy case is tough, retailers are looking for something new beyond Greek yogurt, she says.
So how does Wünder Creamery quark compare with Elli Quark – another brand seeking to reinvent quark for American consumers?
“Competition is good as we want to raise awareness about quark,” said Abilova. “But the products taste different as we use different cultures. We also use cane sugar, whereas Elli Quark [which debuted at Expo West in 2013] uses stevia, erythritol and vegetable rennet.”
Wünder Creamery’s quark cups will be available at select retailers beginning spring 2018. Flavors include blueberry, coffee, vanilla bean coconut, raspberry, and matcha in 5.3 oz. cups, as well as a plain option in a 24 oz. container.
Check out the brand’s new look at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco on January 21-23, 2018. Booth #841.