How did a superfood once overlooked become one of the biggest disruptors of dairy in recent years? Jesse Merrill is the CEO and Co-Founder of good culture cottage cheese company that aims to make healthy real food available to everyone. He attributes the company’s extraordinary growth and disruption to the team of passionate people who are driven to big results.
Merrill was on hand to discuss good culture cottage cheese remarkable growth, how he found a team with “A players in every seat”, and how he keeps a cohesive, engaged culture within a remote team.
Good Culture Cottage Cheese
ForceBrands: Please tell us about yourself and the inspirations that led you to create Good Culture.
Jesse Merrill: My career began in event marketing. Moby hired me to manage the marketing for Teany, his bottled-tea company. The brand grew quickly and was sold in less than two years. When Honest Tea was still a brand Love Culture worth less than $10 million, I joined them as their Head of Marketing. In less than five years, we grew the brand from $70M to $70M and sold it to Coca-Cola. After the sale to Coca-Cola, I was promoted to Head of Marketing at ACTIVATE drinks by Anders Eisner, son of Michael Eisner. Three years later, we sold ACTIVATE. Anders and I decided that we would team up for Good Culture, our next venture.
Anders and I saw a huge opportunity for disruption in the cottage cheese market. Cottage cheese was a superfood that had more protein than yogurt and less sugar than the yogurt. However, it was lacking in innovation and brand appeal. The majority of products that were on shelves had additives and sourced milk from confined animals. They also came in outdated tubs that offered little or no flavor options. We saw a chance to revive the $1.1 billion category, which was once bigger than yogurt in 1970s.
Personal note: I was also diagnosed as having ulcerative colitis (UC) during this period. This is a chronic inflammatory bowel disorder. To keep my symptoms under control, I was told I would need to take harsh drugs throughout my life and that it was irreversible. My doctor asked me if changing my diet might have an effect. He replied, “No, there’s no correlation to diet.” I quickly dismissed his suggestion, met with an integrative physician, and agreed to a three year diet that consisted of only real food, which helped reduce inflammation. Cultured dairy superfoods (mostly good culture cottage cheese cheddar) were an important part of this protocol. All my symptoms disappeared within two months of following this diet. No signs of UC were seen in my last colonoscopy. It was almost as if I had never been diagnosed with the disease. However, I believe in the power of food as medicine. Our mission is to make real, healing foods accessible to all people (without harming the planet or animals). This is the guiding principle behind every decision we make.
Facebook: What makes Good Culture so special? What makes it different from other cottage cheeses?
JM: Good Culture only sources milk sourced from pasture-raised, sustainable farm animals. We only use real food and simple ingredients (never use preservatives, stabilizers or gums). Our product is rich in protein and is more creamy than soupy and slimy. We use only real food ingredients and never use protein concentrates. Good Culture can be purchased in single-serve or multi-serve cups. Our single-serve options also come in a variety of flavor choices.
Facebook: When was the moment you knew you were on to something?
JM: We launched in key retailers across the country, and saw speed levels that outpaced those of category leaders when we did so. We discovered that 62% of our customers were younger consumers who hadn’t previously been shopping in the category. This meant that we were bringing new users to the market and increasing the pie size.
Facebook: What are your proudest moments as a company’s growth?
JM: Our revenue has doubled in the last two years and we have grown by more than 500% since 2016. We expect to double our revenue this year. We have received amazing consumer responses. Our repeat rate is high and we are building a loyal customer base. We hear consumers often comment that they used to not like cottage cheese but now love Good Culture. This is why we are elevating this category and introducing people nutritionally dense real food products that heal. The team we have created is also something I am proud of. We have created a special team of dedicated people who work hard every day to achieve our mission.
FB: Let’s talk team building. ForceBrands believes that we build the brands by building the teams. What were your first key hires? How did you find them?
JM: To help us jump-start our business, we immediately hired a Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Sales. These roles are crucial to a successful launch. The VP Sales was found through personal networks, while the VP Operations was found via ForceBrands!
FB: It was mentioned that the majority of your team works remotely. How did you build a dedicated remote team of employees?
JM: We tried initially to create a local team, all working out of our Orange County office. However, it was difficult to source A-players with this approach. We realized quickly that a virtual model would be better suited to our needs and allow us to fill every seat of the bus with top talent. Although most of our team works remotely, we all feel very close. This is possible through a commitment to open communication, transparency and vulnerability across the company. It is crucial that employees live out our core values and climb to the top together. Technology is also crucial as it allows for seamless communication. To create a strong model, we are always improving and optimizing our tools. We currently use a combination of email, Slack and Zoom — it works very well.