One year ago The Grocer made the case for a renewed focus on NPD in cottage cheese, teaming up with branding consultants Springetts to design seven new cottage cheese brands and formats for the Dairymen.

The category was in the doldrums, suffering from a lack of innovation and branding, which was stopping it from reaching a consumer base beyond dieters, we argued.

One year on, and the category’s fortunes have improved, with value up 5% to £49.9m and volume up by 5% to 16m kilos [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 10 June 2012]. And, encouragingly, there has been an acceleration in NPD.

Arla, with a 56% share of the own-label cottage cheese market, has upped its game. Earlier this year, it created a 200g lunch pot containing low-fat cottage cheese, a pack of crackers and a sachet of chutney, sauce or relish complete with a spoon contained in a “top hat” dome, which has since gone on sale under Asda’s and Tesco’s own-label ranges.

The product is designed to compete with sandwiches, salads and wraps, enabling it to play in the lucrative on-the-go market.

“It is still early days, but we’re excited to see 42% of people buying lunch pots are completely new to cottage cheese,” says Arla cottage cheese brand manager Julia Welford.

Other suppliers are also taking a close look at new, more convenient formats. Premium branded cottage cheese provider Langage Farm currently sells its cheese in 227g pots but is now considering a smaller pot targeted at the lunchbox market. “Instead of just taking in a sandwich and fruit, the lunchbox could also include cottage cheese,” says a spokesman.

“42% of people buying lunch pots are new to cottage cheese”

Julia Welford, Arla

rla has also launched first-to-market cucumber & mint, tropical fruits, pineapple, passion fruit & mango as well as tomato & basil flavours. And Langage is trialling bolder variants, which include elderflower & lemongrass, with local schoolchildren.

First Milk, which supplies own-label and branded cottage cheese through its Kingdom Cheese business, is taking a different approach - pouring its efforts into improving overall quality rather than focusing on new flavours. The main barrier to consumption is that consumers don’t like the taste and texture, says First Milk commercial director Richard Hollingdale. “The new flavour variants add some interest on shelf, but they don’t really add volume,” he argues.

In a market dominated by own label, Langage is not the only brand to have gained more exposure. In April, when Sainsbury’s ran short of its standard own-label cottage cheese, branded supplier Longley Farm was called on to fill in the gaps and gained national distribution for several weeks. And, after voluntarily coming out of Waitrose last year because it couldn’t achieve sufficient economies of scale, organic brand Holy Cow returned in January, after working closely with Waitrose on refining its strategy. It has since boosted like-for-like volume sales by 18%.

What we haven’t seen is some of the truly daring approaches advocated in our cottage cheese challenge. But at least a start has been made.