Once store owners in the United States try a jar of Gerard and Susan Tuck’s Chevoo cheese they want to stock it.
“We have a phenomenal hit rate when people taste the product,” Gerard Tuck tells Fairfax Media in San Francisco. “I would say it would be over 90 per cent of stores.”
Tuck ran cheese distribution company Calendar Cheese Company in Australia before heading to the Stanford Graduate School of Business to study where he identified a gap in the market for Australian style marinated cheese.
“The best selling category of cheese was a trend that just didn’t exist in the United States,” he said.
The Tucks relocated to the United States and built their own cheese manufacturing facility in the Sonoma wine region in San Francisco’s bay area.
Chevoo’s cheese is made using goat’s milk, marinated in extra virgin olive oil and available in range of flavours including with dill pollen and garlic, and with chilli and lemon.
Tuck says the range of more unusual flavours appeals to American palates.
Chevoo now turns over US$3 million ($4.2 million) a year with its cheeses sold in more than 1000 retailers including Whole Foods stores across the United States.
A unique Australian product
Cheese expert Will Studd credits cheese maker Richard Thomas with first developing the marinated cheese which has become a uniquely Australian product.
Thomas was inspired by cheese preserved in oil in pots in the Iranian desert and created Yarra Valley Dairy’s signature Persian fetta, made using cheese from fresh cow’s milk preserved in olive oil, when he was working at Yarra Valley Dairy in Victoria.
Thomas then moved to Meredith Dairy where he developed Meredith’s best selling marinated cheese using goat’s milk.
“Until Richard came up with marinated cheese in oil nobody had seen that in Australia or anywhere else besides the Middle East, it was a unique product,” says Studd. “It is something that really stands out as Australian.”
Studd has his own range of Will Studd cheese which he sells in the United States and he says sales are “going gangbusters” with turnover in the country of over $2 million a year.
“We are doubling in size every year, it is just extraordinary,” Studd says. “Meredith Dairy is doing really well over there and so is Yarra Valley Dairy. It’s a big market over there they look to refreshing ideas.”
Cheesemonger Anthony Femia of Maker and Monger says consumers in the United States can’t get enough of Australian style marinated cheese.
“They say that it’s like crack over there,” he says.
‘It takes a lot of dedication’
Meredith Dairy co-founder Sandy Cameron says the Victorian business exports about 10 per cent of its product internationally including selling to China, Singapore and the United States.
Sales in the United States are strong with Cameron saying turnover is over $2 million a year there.
“The marinated cheese is doing well overseas because it is made daily with fresh milk and a food quality oil so it is appealing,” she says. “It takes a lot of dedication to make cheese daily for so many years.”
Cameron says she is not surprised by Chevoo’s success.
“The business is founded by the former chief executive of our main distributor, he saw what we do and knew it sells well,” she said.
Tuck says there is room for Chevoo as well as the Australian imports in the United States given the sheer size of the market.
Starting a business in the United States has not been an easy journey and in particular Tuck says getting a business visa was challenging.
“Another challenge has been being away from your support network which is surprisingly impactful particularly when you are starting a business,” he says. “We have a young family and you are doing everything for the first time and everything from scratch. It was pretty intense.”
However, Tuck says the family has received a lot of support.
“I would say the openness of the Americans to entrepreneurship and people starting new businesses has really helped,” he says. “There is a complete lack of fear of failure.”
Chevoo has plenty of room to grow with its new manufacturing facility operating at less than 20 per cent capacity.
“The US market is so massive that it could keep us entirely occupied for years to come,” says Tuck. “But opportunistically if there was a market elsewhere that asked us to export then why wouldn’t we?”