A company that got its inspiration from a co-founder’s medical condition has become a rising star in the world of sustainable and healthy food, raising more than $60 million in a recent funding round and earning the backing of both corporate leaders and Hollywood celebrities.
The company is Irvine, Calif.-based Good Culture, which uses regenerative agriculture to produce organic cottage cheese and sour cream.
Seven years after its founding, Good Culture has made a name for itself through its products and ability to attract financial backing, which hit a new level in late February when it raised $64 million in a Series C funding round led by private equity group Manna Tree Partners.
Good Culture will use proceeds from the round to expand its team and marketing campaign, bolster its manufacturing operation, and provide liquidity to early shareholders. Other backers in the latest round include SEMCAP Food & Nutrition, founded by former 301 Inc. Managing Director John Haugen, and actress Kristen Bell of “Veronica Mars” and “Frozen” fame. SEMCAP and Manna Tree both joined Good Culture’s board.
The latest funding round positions Good Culture as a leader in sustainable cultured foods. The company has been working toward that since it was co-founded in 2015 by Jesse Merrill and Anders Eisner.
The genesis of Good Culture came after Merrill was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune bowel disease caused by chronic inflammation. Doctors told Merrill to take prescription meds to manage the condition. Instead, he explored alternative healing practices – including a diet consisting solely of cultured dairy, grass-fed proteins, cooked vegetables, and fruit. The symptoms eased almost immediately, and in three years, Merrill was cured.
Along the way, he and Eisner launched Good Culture as a ”healing foods” company. Its product lineup is built around organic cottage cheese with no preservatives, gums, or artificial flavoring. Choices include low-fat, whole milk, double-cream, strawberry chia, and blueberry acai chia varieties. The company also makes probiotic sour cream and lactose-free organic sour cream. All products come from pasture-raised cows.
Cottage cheese and sour cream might seem more tailored to the 20th century than the current one, but they provide health benefits.
“When sourced sustainably and produced without additives, cultured dairy products like cottage cheese and sour cream are an excellent source of amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals,” said Sylvio Petto Neto, director of Manna Tree. “Good Culture’s traction and growth demonstrate the rising generation’s commitment to transparent, better-for-you brands. It is the fastest growing cottage cheese brand in the natural channel and the biggest contributor to cottage cheese growth in the U.S.”
Other financial backers have been similarly impressed. Merrill, Good Culture’s CEO, first came into contact with Bell on Instagram when she was preparing for an overseas shoot and asked if Good Culture products were available in Europe.
“Of course, we were beyond thrilled to learn that Kristen was an organic fan of our products,” Merrill told Forbes. “We stayed in touch and learned that Kristen was a super fan, sharing Good Culture with her friends and family, including her husband, who she said was also hooked.”
As Good Culture wrapped up its Series C funding, the company talked with Bell about its financial performance and commitment to nutrient-dense food, sustainability, and regenerative agriculture. That’s when she decided to become an investor.
Haugen was an early investor in the company and has remained ever since.
“Our team has partnered with Jesse for the past six years, which have been defined by explosive growth, and we are thrilled to continue to elevate his ambitious vision and mission for the brand,” Haugen said.
Longer term, Good Culture eyes expansion into other areas, including portable, high-protein snacks. “We are evolving from a cottage cheese and sour cream brand to a healing cultured foods company,” Merrill said.