Up until recently, cottage cheese was arguably one of the most yawn-worthy subcategories within the cultured dairy segment. With so much other innovation in the cultured dairy space, consumers likely viewed the product as bland and boring — and retail sales data reflected that reality.
But some dairy processors are investing in flavor innovation and convenient packaging formats that aim to reinvigorate the cottage cheese segment. One of those processors is Orrville, Ohio-based Smith Foods Inc., which is changing up the subcategory with its Artisa brand. We asked Emily Finer, Artisa’s senior brand manager/brand strategist, about the brand’s endeavors here.
Dairy Foods: What makes cottage cheese a great base for added ingredients and flavors?
Emily Finer: Consumers are looking for nutrient-dense products with clean ingredients and fresh taste. More importantly, in recent years, layers of flavor have become important. Cottage cheese naturally has a milder flavor than adjacent products like yogurt — making it better for enhancing and laying flavors, both sweet and savory.
Dairy Foods: Where does Smith Foods find “flavor inspiration” for its Artisa cottage cheese products?
Finer: It’s all about usage. We look at what flavors are top performers in adjacent categories, as well as what flavors sell strong during the lunch and morning dayparts, when single-serve usage is the highest.
Innovation in cottage cheese historically has had a pretty slow build. It takes time to bring new users into the category, and existing users aren’t that eager to change. We feel like the key to success is to start by building your base business with approachable, trusted flavors. Once you’ve established your base, then you can start thinking a little more … uncottaged.
Dairy Foods: Artisa brand cottage cheese products come in single-serve cups — a newer packaging format for the cottage cheese space. Talk about the benefits of this packaging option.
Finer: The average cottage cheese consumer is aging. Growth has to come from bringing in new users and increasing usage. We believe one of the best ways to increase usage is to provide packaging forms that make it easier for consumers to fit cottage cheese into their daily lifestyle.
Dairy Foods: In your view, what is the growth potential for cottage cheese with added ingredients/flavors over the next five years?
Finer: Cottage cheese does not have an awareness issue — it has a consideration issue. The bottleneck for the cottage cheese category is that even though most consumers know it exists, know what the benefits of it are, and even know where it is located in grocery stores, they never even consider purchasing it.
Growth is going to come as much from innovation in flavor and forms as it is from marketing that changes the consumer mindset. Something that ties it to relevancy in ways other than function.