Apparently you can never have too many yogurt brands, but the Painterland Sisters brand really does stand out from the clutter on store shelves in a number of respects. It's organic and based on farming principles that are both sustainable for the land and humane for the animals. It is in the Icelandic Skyr yogurt style that is more nutrient dense than typical yogurt, and, unlike even the trendiest of brands, the Painterland brand comes with two genuine farmers’ daughters. You can listen to the entire podcast at this link.
Co-CEO's Hayley and Stephanie Painter, were born and raised on a farm in Central Pennsylvania that has been in the family for four generations. After college they returned home, focused on connecting consumers with the traditions of farming. Within a few short years and a crowdfunding campaign, their organic, sustainable yogurt brand has reached more than 45 retailers and over 1,500 locations. It's one of the fastest growing brands in their category. We recently met with hald of the C-Suite - Stephanie Painter.
MediaPost: What brought you to become Icelandic yogurt makers in the middle of Pennsylvania?
Stephanie Painter: My sister and I are fourth generation on our family’s organic, regenerative, dairy and crop farm in Northern Central PA, about 5 min from the New York border. We've always wanted to come back to the farm and to show the world our farm and connect the world to the farm, the farm to the world. As we graduated college we realized people were totally disconnected from the source of their food, which is the American farmer. And we were constantly telling our story in a unique, I guess, millennial woman type of way. When we went back to the family farm, we told our dad, hey we need a couple of years to get out of this small town, talk to more people than our cows and our cousins, and we'll come back, and then we'll figure it out. We always knew we were going to come back. And once we finally did, we're like we have a ton of milk, we don't want to be another statistic, like most dairy farms are today. We don't want to close our doors. What can we do to take control of our own destinies and really bring value and understanding of the American dairy farmers specifically?
We decided to make an organic Icelandic style yogurt. We partnered with an Icelandic yogurt maker here in Pennsylvania, of all places. Very serendipitous. We take our family farms, milk as well as other farms in our general vicinity to the middle of Pennsylvania. We make great yogurt, and then we ship it to almost all 50 States and getting close to 2,000 locations, and we launched it just over a year ago.
MP: So up until then the family farm had been mainly producing for wholesale and selling to suppliers and other product manufacturers?
Painter: Yes, just co-ops, so it's all the milk right to co-ops.
MP: Outline the nature of the growth for us. How are you managing it? You said that it took off very quickly, you had a lot of supply to get out there, but also increasing demand.
Painter: We launched March of 2022 into retail. Worked with a local distributor here. In Pennsylvania to get into those mom and pops, and then within a couple of months we hit national grocers, and then Sprouts really took us off. And Sprouts has been a great partner to work with. In 12 months, we hit 1.3 million dollars’ worth of revenue. And then this year we're on track to 3.5 million dollars’ worth of revenue. That's a lot of yogurt and we're producing it every single week because this is a short shelf-life product. So that's about 60,000 yogurt cups we're making every week. We just hired a Director of Operations who's excellent at figuring out how to continue to grow that. It's really looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying, Hey, what do we need to pay for when it comes to professional help?
MP: How much of this has simply been organic growth, and how much have you felt you needed to advertise or to market? If there's any budget for this, where does it go?
Painter: When it comes to marketing in general, we have a certified woman owned brand. You can tell through our pure packaging on our marketing. It looks different on the shelf. We spent a lot of time creating the look of the brand. My sister and I by ourselves worked with a graphic designer. She lives in the woods of Oregon, and we found her on Instagram. We were very particular with how we were coming out. We did a lot of the writing, and a lot of it was organic. And then we hired a director of marketing, and she helped us become strategic with just different geo-targeting, Google ads. We knew we wanted to do a lot of grassroots marking like brand ambassadors. We have new crew members that really help us tell our story in their local communities. We engage with a lot of local events that are happening in different communities. It's been really interesting to do that, and we definitely have a budget. We wish we had a bigger budget for that because we believe in that. But we're millennial women, we're on Instagram, we're on Facebook, we're utilizing what we've grown up knowing. That’s cut a lot of the cost.
MP: You’ve mentioned packaging. It is different from most yogurts. Most yogurts are clearly fighting against everybody else on the shelf in brightness. The fruits everywhere, purple colors. Characterize the choices that you made in terms of packaging, and how you wanted to look on the shelf?
Painter: Everything that we do, we try and work really hard to maintain authenticity to who we are. We grew up on a farm very natural minded, and we wanted to make sure that came through in our packaging. And we wanted people to understand what was in this product was clean, pure from the farmer, from two sisters, and just laid it out. We wanted them to understand our agriculture background and how we practice sustainable agriculture. And a lot of people are visual. If we just marked “regenerative agriculture” it might not have worked. We had our graphic designer work on different icons for this. And that's just on the packaging piece. We have a farmer-owned icon that is a farmer like, it's a woman farmer. We have a mother-owned Icon, because 80% of the buying power is women. And people, mothers especially want to get their kids the best. From one mother to another, we've got you. And we understood this, and we want to make sure it's on the packaging. Certified woman owned. Put that on the packaging. Now, my sister and I got into sisterly quarrels about where the blueberries go and stuff like that. But we were very precise with how we did things on our on our packaging.
MP: What do you like most and least about being a CPG entrepreneur?
Painter: I think one of the best things is to be able to be on the store shelf. When we started this, we're like, we're going to have a little farm stand, and we're going to give people great nutrient dense products right from the farm. And we've taken that up a notch, and we're able to do that now, at the convenience of going into a retail grocery store. And so I think that's one of the coolest things. Busy people when they go to the grocery store can grab off the shelf [a product] that's right from the farm. That's so hard to find now, without driving 10 miles this way, and then taking a life left at the Pine Tree and going down a two mile dirt road to get great organic products from a farmer. That makes me feel really great to be able to provide that to them.
And then, least, you mentioned all the sales and the trade promo and trade expenses. It's really hard to navigate that because we want to give it to the consumer. And sometimes it feels a little convoluted. I think that's one of the trickiest parts of this. And then it's also like, hey, you can make more money if you cut the probiotics in half. We're like, probiotics are what's helping people's gut. Or if you take out the lactase enzyme. We're like, well, 68% of people have lactose intolerance so we don't want to do that. I think that's one thing that you know you see as brands grow in general is that they start cutting costs by dampening their product. And we've really stayed true. We're not going to cut corners here. We want to continue to have a really incredibly nutrient, dense product.
MP: You started out by talking about how one of the ideas here was to make the farm more sustainable long term. Have you succeeded? Do you see this as a model going forward for the farm economy moving into the CPG space?
Painter: Yes, and that's one of the biggest ambitions of Hayley and I - to show the potato farmer down the road that if he wanted to, he could make potato chips, and he can do this. And that we can take back our control. We're the ones in the field working the soil, making sure that it has nutrients, so that it grows into the plants, and the plants have nutrients, and then maybe the animal eats the nutrients, and what the animal provides like the milk is full of that. That is so much work, and that's so much love. And then it gets disconnected when it's on the store shelf. So not only is it important for the consumer, but for the farmer. If we don't continue to support and respect the farmer, consumers aren't going to have the option. So that's one thing. It's empowering farmers to be able to take their destiny in their own hands like we've tried to do. We're really proud of that and we speak a lot about that and try to empower people to make their own brand.