Israel's Tnuva Takes Its Cottage Cheese to the U.S.

The company's iconic product is being given a local spin, like fruit flavors and a longer shelf life, to appeal to American palates.

Tnuva cottage cheese on display in a minimarket fridge.
Tali Mayer

Tnuva, Israel’s biggest food maker, is giving its iconic cottage cheese an American spin and putting it on U.S. supermarket shelves starting this week.

Sold under the Muuna brand and manufactured in Minneapolis, Tnuva's best-selling cottage cheese received a year-and-a-half makeover to conform to the American palate. That means, among other things, cottage cheese mixed with strawberry, pineapple, mango and other fruits, as well as a 50-day shelf life.

“One of the growth engines for Tnuva over the coming years is developing operations overseas side by side with Israel,” CEO Eyal Malis said. “The Muuna brand in the United States, which is based on Tnuva’s strong assets and unique knowledge in making cottage cheese, marks a major milestone in taking the company into new international markets.”

In fact, Tnuva, which was bought by the Chinese company Bright Food last year, has been struggling with sales of its cottage cheese and other dairy products at home. Sales fell 5.4% in the first half of the year – though cottage cheese sales are little changed – and the company has been slashing prices 40% and 50% to entice shoppers.

Tnuva’s status as the No. 1 cottage cheese in a country where it’s consumed in vast quantities is both an asset and a burden. When the company raised the price of its cottage cheese in the spring of 2011, it set off a Facebook protest that morphed into a summer of giant rallies and tent cities protesting the high cost of living, forcing the government to appoint a reform commission.

In America, cottage cheese doesn’t have the same status. Sales of the category run about $1.2 billion annually – the market is split equally between national, local and private label brands – with Kraft as the market leader. Only about half of U.S. households regularly buy cottage cheese at all.

Tnuva’s Muuna brand will come in 2% and 4% fat versions in containers of 150 and 450 grams. The 150-gram personal-size container will sell for about $1.50. Tnuva aims to gradually roll out Muuna nationwide, starting in the northeast. It will be directed at both the kosher and general markets.

Tnuva may be looking at the success of Strauss Group, another Israeli food maker, that turned hummus into a hit product in the United States through its Sabra joint venture with PepsiCo. Basking in its U.S. success, Sabra is taking its first footsteps into Europe.

But at least one industry veteran isn’t confident Tnuva can pull it off. “It’s a daring undertaking for Tnuva that may not succeed,” said one competitor who asked not to be named.

“The U.S. market already has cottage cheese and they’re launching it at a difficult time for the company . The first years after you enter a new market you need to invest a lot of money and finance local operations.”