CPG Playbook   //   June 12, 2024

TikTok has ignited a cottage cheese renaissance

Cottage cheese is having a major moment on social media right now.

Over the last year the hashtag #cottagecheese garnered well over half a billion views on TikTok, showing people are hungry for the protein-packed food once associated with diet fads. Cottage cheese had a moment in the 1970s, when the average American ate nearly five pounds of it per year, according to the Department of Agriculture. But over the years, Americans started to turn to other high protein, low carb food, leading NPR to declare in 2015 that yogurt had “eclipsed” cottage cheese.

But in recent years, cottage cheese has experienced a resurgence in popularity. People have taken to TikTok to show how cottage cheese can be used in better-for-you recipes, with creative dishes like viral cottage cheese flatbread and ice cream. At-home followers looking to recreate these recipes have helped cottage cheese boost dairy sales. Now, challengers in the category like Good Culture are seeking to capitalize on the resurgence of cottage cheese by partnering with influencers on new recipes and investing more resources into building out their social media presence.

According to Circana data from May, cottage cheese sales were up 13.5% year-over-year, up to $1.33 billion. The firm also reported that in 2023 cottage cheese was the third-fastest-growing segment within dairy, with private label leading the sales. The continued demand has even led top-seller Daisy Brand to invest in manufacturing, with the company announcing a $626 million facility in May. 

Founded in 2015, Good Culture is one of the more prominent beneficiaries of cottage cheese’s newfound popularity. The brand is sold at Target, Walmart, Kroger and Whole Foods Market, where it’s currently the top-selling cottage cheese brand. In 2023, Good Culture had projected 35% year-over-year revenue growth, but thanks to cottage cheese surging on TikTok the company ended the year with 80% growth.

That momentum has continued for the startup brand. According to May 2024 Spins data that tracked the last 52 weeks, Good Culture’s sales have grown 96.6% year-over-year thanks to increased demand among retailers. Good Culture is also now the second best-selling branded cottage cheese behind Daisy, having overtaken Breakstone’s in the past year. 

Leaning into the online frenzy for cottage cheese, this month Good Culture launched a new summer campaign called “The Obsession is Real.” The campaign consists of influencer marketing, email, a website redesign, organic social, and soon-to-come branded merch.

Jesse Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Good Culture, told Modern Retail that the company had been gradually building its social media presence over the past nine years. But in the spring of 2023, Merrill said engagement was boosted significantly when a cottage cheese ice cream recipe featuring Good Culture went viral.

Since then, Merrill said Good Culture has been prominently featured in other high-protein cottage cheese recipes by social media creators, including cottage cheese pudding, pancakes, and most recently the cottage cheese flatbread. In 2023, Good Culture saw a 172% increase in engagement rate on owned social channels compared to the previous year.

“Since cottage cheese started trending in 2023, we have leaned in and put more resources against our digital efforts,” Merrill said, by partnering with several micro and macro influencers on custom recipes. Recently, the company also began collaborating with other food brands on recipes and giveaways to broaden its reach. Some brand partners include Nature Nate’s hot honey and Mexican food startup Somos. “We are also leaning into UGC and organic influencer content that is everywhere on social, whitelisting their content to help spread the word,” Merrill said.

Carol Ortenberg, a food and beverage brand strategist and advisor, said cottage cheese was a popular “diet food” for decades, but it has managed to sustain its staying power among shoppers over the years.

Regardless of what dietary trend is in vogue — whether it’s keto, gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein or low-calorie — Ortenberg said, “It seems like cottage cheese has been able to meet that consumer need head-on given its nutritional makeup.” These versatile attributes make cottage cheese a versatile, easy-to-find ingredient that a wide range of online followers can find and recreate.

With the category as a whole seeing a lift, incumbent players are capitalizing on social media attention. 

Legacy brand Breakstone’s, which has been around since 1882, is experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to demand for its triple-churned cottage cheese. In 2020, Kraft Heinz sold Breakstone’s to French dairy company Lactalis Group in a $3.2 billion deal as part of its offloading of its natural cheese business.

Megan Patterson, digital marketing manager at Lactalis Heritage Dairy, told Modern Retail that social media “has been a large driver behind the shift in consumer preferences and behavior.”

Breakstone’s relaunched its Instagram account in September 2023, with just 30 followers, as part of a rebrand, Patterson said. Since then, the account has grown to more than 5,700 followers; Instagram accounts for the bulk of the brand’s social presence.

Since March, Patterson said the brand’s accounts have seen a 90-day engagement growth rate of over 1,222%. Roughly 96% of its followers are female. “To date, our highest-viewed video was our Holiday Salmon Brunch Board with Carla Bushey, which reached 28,000 views in 48 hours,” she said.

The continued demand for simple, quick home recipes is a growth opportunity for Breakstone’s, Patterson said. “Consumers are more likely to purchase a container of cottage cheese to incorporate into their weekly meals, seamlessly fitting into breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes,” she said. “We consider this at Breakstone’s when developing our social content and online recipes.” The brand is now focusing on highlighting its various products in influencer-led content, such as its multi-serve packs and its Cottage Cheese Doubles, which feature fruit toppings.

Increased cottage cheese sales stand to help the dairy category as a whole, which has struggled in recent years. With the interest in high-protein food, the cottage cheese trend shows no signs of slowing down. Further investments are now being planned by players in this category.

Merrill said coming off its big year, Good Culture is developing new products after launching sour cream and probiotic milk in the last couple of years. “I can’t speak to specific launches at this time but stay tuned,” he said.