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February 7, 2024
Good Culture, the company behind the nation’s fastest-growing cottage cheese brand, is expanding its Path to Pasture program to include more dairy farmers, reduce the industry’s contributions to climate change and bring clean options to consumers.
Since 2019, Good Culture has teamed with Dairy Farmers of America to get more cows out of the feedlots and onto pastures. This focus on regenerative agriculture improves soil health and captures carbon, says Jesse Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Good Culture. It’s a move to reverse dairy’s negative impacts on factors including land use, greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater and pollution.
Good Culture, with the help of its DFA partnership, seeks to shift those trends and set new, more optimistic tones for the future. Plus, Path to Pasture gives buyers more choices for organic and grass-fed dairy products. The program “is our way to create meaningful food system change and meet consumers where they are headed,” Merrill explains.
To that point, Path to Pasture recently expanded beyond seven farms in the Minnesota-Illinois milkshed, the source of Good Culture’s traditional supply chain, to southeastern Kentucky. That will offer many more cows the chance to return to healthy grazing.
“Over 90 additional DFA farms, collectively milking over 7,500 cows, have the opportunity to participate in the program,” says Jackie Klippenstein, senior vice president, chief government and industry relations officer for DFA.
Interested farmers have to apply to take part in Path to Pasture. They must commit to making pasture and infrastructure improvements, taking advantage of education and technical support and dedicating their operations to pasture access and regenerative practices.
None of this comes cheap, of course, so Good Culture and DFA pitch in on the financial side.
“With in-kind support from DFA, Path to Pasture is 100% funded by Good Culture and our annual donation to 1% for the Planet,” Merrill says. Members of 1% for the Planet commit to donating 1% or more of their annual sales to environmental organizations; the organization, founded by Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews, certifies the donations and makes sure the corporations fulfill their commitments.
“The dollars we allocate for this annual donation are routed to the Path to Pasture program, bringing resources to farms,” Merrill says. Once Good Culture has the foundation to collect “robust case studies,” he expects Path to Pasture to serve as a template for wide-scale food system change.
“In a decade, we hope to see more cows on more pasture, more often and in more places,” he says.
That may strike some as a lofty goal. After all, food prices remain high, corporate owners seek short-term profit gains and the majority of Americans still opt for conventionally raised dairy. But Merrill sees potential for transformation.
“Partnerships among brands, organizations like DFA and farmers, are the future of the CPG industry, making a difference from production to final product,” he says. “When we partner together, we can amplify our work and increase impact more effectively than we could as one entity alone. [We can be] daring and aggressive to authentically support change-making as we know it matters to our consumers and the communities we serve.”
That ethos includes creating meaningful outcomes for farmers themselves, the backbone of the country’s food supply. Not only does Path to Pasture promote cleaner eating and climate improvements, it also improves the livelihood of small family farms. That’s because the program reduces input costs and raises yields, Merrill says.
“Path to Pasture can be a more profitable business and agriculture model to keep younger generations in the farming business,” he says. “Supporting these farmer-owners makes a difference in their lives and the greater dairy supply.”
Dairy Farmers of America’s Klippenstein agrees.
“For our farm families, sustainability is a way of life for future generations,” she says. “They’re always thinking about the next sustainable effort or technology for their farms because taking care of the land, their animals and the air and water around them means preserving the farm to be here for the next generation. We’re thrilled to work with Good Culture on this program.”
The expansion of Path to Pasture comes as Good Culture makes its mark on consumers seeking clean dairy options. Among conventional, natural and mass retailers, the 10-year-old company is the fastest growing cottage cheese brand in natural and multi-outlet (MULO) grocery channels, according to SPINS data for the 12 weeks ending Dec. 2. Among natural brands, Good Culture is driving category growth, with a 78% increase in dollar sales and a 50% increase in unit growth. In November, Good Culture sales at Whole Foods Market increased 111%, according to the agency.
Merrill knows, though, that Good Culture can’t achieve its sales or social-good goals on its own. The success the company is seeing in stores and on pastures stems from collaboration.
“We want people to understand that if you find values-aligned partners willing to create change, that meaningful food system change is possible together,” he says. “Transformative change to the food system or an organization takes time and allies, and staying laser-focused on the end goal is key to making progress through the challenges.”
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