Laura Chenel’s has been around longer than most in the US – it started out in California in 1979. In 2006, the company was purchased by French cheese company Rians, which also bought another California cheese company, Marin French Cheese, the oldest cheese manufacturer in the US, in 2011.
Rians also owns cheese companies in Spain.
History of goat cheese
Chevrollier, who is general manager of both Laura Chenel’s and Marin French Cheese, also has a long association with goat cheese.
“I was raising goats and making cheese in France when I was 19 years old,” Chevrollier told DairyReporter.
“I came to the US to start a goat farm. They needed someone who could help start up the goat herd and cheese production.
“From there I went with Bongrain group to develop and launch Chavrie; that was the first modern goat cheese for the US market. It was a good entry goat cheese for the market in the US because it was fairly mild – white, no smell, soft in texture – so you could spread it.”
Chevrollier then moved into marketing, leaving Bongrain four years ago to head over to the Rians group and take care of Laura Chenel's, and Marin French Cheese.
The growth of goat cheese
While goat cheese has long been popular in Europe, and is growing in other areas, Chevrollier says it’s taken time for the US to embrace it.
“I remember when I launched Chavrie, in the early 90s, nobody knew what it was. Twenty years later, Americans embraced those types of cheeses. People have definitely really evolved in terms of taste preferences and they are looking for products that are tastier, and for more exotic flavors.”
Chevrollier says that there is a new era evolving, with products that have a different texture.
“After the fresh cheeses, we are now entering the soft-ripened category with a goat brie. It shows the market is ready for products that are a little more sophisticated in terms of flavors.”
The changing world of food
People’s tastes are changing, Chevrollier said, and it’s partly due to the way people experience food now.
“People are traveling more, they are more open to new things coming from around the world.
“There is more change, more novelty available, and people try it. It's good for cheese and goat cheese.”
Laura Chenel’s is expanding, selling its products further afield than its California base.
Both brands of products are sold from Maine to Florida in retailers including Safeway, Publix and Whole Foods as well as specialty retailers.
Chevrollier says there are more companies producing goat milk and goat cheese today, but that sourcing the milk is still the biggest issue.
Importance of healthy
Chevrollier said that more recent developments have been a move toward local produce, and healthier.
“People are looking for healthier, more natural products. Goat cheese is definitely part of this category, so it's a plus for goat cheese.
“It's a product that is more digestible, and it is slightly higher in protein.
“I would not say that's the first thing – people are looking for it because it's unique. It's a more local, original product, and this is a trend that is growing right now. If you combine both the local and the health, you have the reason for the success of goat cheese in the US.”
GMO or non-GMO?
The GMO debate continues to rage, however for Chevrollier, it’s not a case of whether it is or isn’t good in terms of the food, it’s how it is perceived by consumers that makes the difference.
“Science says there is no big difference between GMO and non-GMO, but on the other hand, the consumer is sensitive to this, and is sceptical. So our position is always to say let's make sure the consumer is comfortable with what we make. Even if GMO is not necessarily worse, our duty is to produce healthy products for our customers.”
Innovative products key
Laura Chenel’s is frequently bringing new products on to the market.
“Innovation is very important for us,” says Chevrollier.
“We are a small company. We do not have tons of resources in terms of marketing, so one way to make some buzz within our industry is by bringing new products on the market.
“We are trying to produce, develop and market new products and new flavors on a systematic basis. It's part of our business model.”
He said that because goat cheese has barely 10% penetration in the US, it is an open market, and because of that people are more curious than in France, where there are more products available.
“In France, to innovate is difficult. It requires a lot of study and marketing.
“If [a new product] is not successful here, it's not a big deal because we can come back with a new product a few months later.”
Paying attention to trends
The company pays attention to flavor trends.
“We look at the main trends and the main flavors that are trending currently, that is the base for development, then internally we try different flavors until we find one we believe will be a success.
“From there we develop samples, ask consumers to taste those products and give us some input, if we need to, we correct it.”
Award-winning new products
One of the current trends is spicy variants, and it’s a niche Laura Chenel’s has ventured into.
Its new Pimento and Garlic log, which blends goat cheese with garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, then is coated with red and green pimento peppers, recently won a bronze medal at the California State Fair.
It was one of nine awards picked up at the event, while Marin French Cheese picked up 11 honors.
Healthy helps promotion
Chevrollier said he hopes that Laura Chenel’s can become a national brand, with new distribution and supporting innovation through promotion.
And the trend for healthy products makes that push a little bit easier.
“I think healthy helps. Goat cheese has started to be recognized as a healthy alternative, what will help also is the versatility of the cheese.
“You can cook with it, you can make salads, you can make pizzas. The usages, combined with the healthy aspects of the cheese, it's definitely a positive.”
Health benefits of goat milk compared to cow milk
- 13% higher calcium
- 25% higher vitamin B-6
- 47% higher Vitamin A
- 134% higher Potassium
- 350% higher niacin
Goat milk cheese is easily digested because of its amount of vitamins and nutrients. Also, goat cheese contains little or no lactose and is often well tolerated by lactose-intolerant people.
Goat milk cheese is a valuable source of protein. For instance, one ounce of Laura Chenel’s fresh goat log contains 5g of protein.
Helps protect tooth enamel and has an antibacterial effect.