Francisco Pergola @ Cheddies
The Regenerative Cheez-It®
Francisco Pergola is the Co-Founder and CEO of Cheddies. Cheddies is supporting regenerative agriculture with its cheese crackers made with regenerative cheddar cheese. Cheddies is a healthier cheese cracker alternative or, as Francisco likes to call it, “Cheez-It® on steroids.” Compared to peers in the market, Cheddies has six times the cheese, twice the protein, less carbs, and is certified non-GMO, humane, and regenerative.
Cheddies are sold in over 1,000 retailers across the country, including Sprouts, Albertsons, Hy-Vee and HEB. They’ve also partnered with American Airlines. Unlike their competitors who use powdered cheese and more processed ingredients to accommodate for the variable natural flavor of cheese, Cheddies is made with fresh cheddar cheese.
“They just taste better – that’s why people buy our crackers. Yes, our product is regenerative with full transparency on sourcing – but it’s also delicious. That’s our biggest claim to fame – we’re freaking delicious. It’s just the perfect snack.” – Francisco
When each box of Cheddies becomes a "personal box" for me 😂 ⬇️
Their Healthcare Origins
It all started with a thesis project. Francisco was pursuing his Master’s degree in Architecture, spending hours studying hospital waiting rooms. He quickly became enamored with hospital food culture and realized that patients needed protein, and the only products available were protein bars and shakes.
As a side hustle, Francisco and his brother Tomas created a dietician-approved, savory, and cheese-flavored snack packed with protein, selling it “door-to-door” to clinic dieticians. After 8 months of gaining traction in 60 clinics in San Antonio, they were unfortunately shut down by hospital systems obligated to large food service contracts.
Not ones to give up, they decided to pursue a more traditional CPG distribution strategy, which took them down a long path of rejection and project redesign. They eventually participated in CoLab, an accelerator program facilitated by Dairy Farmers of America. Then Cheddies secured its first big retail win with placement in Hy-Vee, thanks to the persistence of a category manager’s wife (you got to hear this story!), and then gained broad distribution working with a leading national food broker.
<svg width="50px" height="50px" viewbox="0 0 60 60" version="1.1" xmlns="https://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"><g stroke="none" stroke-width="1" fill="none" fill-rule="evenodd"><g transform="translate(-511.000000, -20.000000)" fill="#000000"><g><path d="M556.869,30.41 C554.814,30.41 553.148,32.076 553.148,34.131 C553.148,36.186 554.814,37.852 556.869,37.852 C558.924,37.852 560.59,36.186 560.59,34.131 C560.59,32.076 558.924,30.41 556.869,30.41 M541,60.657 C535.114,60.657 530.342,55.887 530.342,50 C530.342,44.114 535.114,39.342 541,39.342 C546.887,39.342 551.658,44.114 551.658,50 C551.658,55.887 546.887,60.657 541,60.657 M541,33.886 C532.1,33.886 524.886,41.1 524.886,50 C524.886,58.899 532.1,66.113 541,66.113 C549.9,66.113 557.115,58.899 557.115,50 C557.115,41.1 549.9,33.886 541,33.886 M565.378,62.101 C565.244,65.022 564.756,66.606 564.346,67.663 C563.803,69.06 563.154,70.057 562.106,71.106 C561.058,72.155 560.06,72.803 558.662,73.347 C557.607,73.757 556.021,74.244 553.102,74.378 C549.944,74.521 548.997,74.552 541,74.552 C533.003,74.552 532.056,74.521 528.898,74.378 C525.979,74.244 524.393,73.757 523.338,73.347 C521.94,72.803 520.942,72.155 519.894,71.106 C518.846,70.057 518.197,69.06 517.654,67.663 C517.244,66.606 516.755,65.022 516.623,62.101 C516.479,58.943 516.448,57.996 516.448,50 C516.448,42.003 516.479,41.056 516.623,37.899 C516.755,34.978 517.244,33.391 517.654,32.338 C518.197,30.938 518.846,29.942 519.894,28.894 C520.942,27.846 521.94,27.196 523.338,26.654 C524.393,26.244 525.979,25.756 528.898,25.623 C532.057,25.479 533.004,25.448 541,25.448 C548.997,25.448 549.943,25.479 553.102,25.623 C556.021,25.756 557.607,26.244 558.662,26.654 C560.06,27.196 561.058,27.846 562.106,28.894 C563.154,29.942 563.803,30.938 564.346,32.338 C564.756,33.391 565.244,34.978 565.378,37.899 C565.522,41.056 565.552,42.003 565.552,50 C565.552,57.996 565.522,58.943 565.378,62.101 M570.82,37.631 C570.674,34.438 570.167,32.258 569.425,30.349 C568.659,28.377 567.633,26.702 565.965,25.035 C564.297,23.368 562.623,22.342 560.652,21.575 C558.743,20.834 556.562,20.326 553.369,20.18 C550.169,20.033 549.148,20 541,20 C532.853,20 531.831,20.033 528.631,20.18 C525.438,20.326 523.257,20.834 521.349,21.575 C519.376,22.342 517.703,23.368 516.035,25.035 C514.368,26.702 513.342,28.377 512.574,30.349 C511.834,32.258 511.326,34.438 511.181,37.631 C511.035,40.831 511,41.851 511,50 C511,58.147 511.035,59.17 511.181,62.369 C511.326,65.562 511.834,67.743 512.574,69.651 C513.342,71.625 514.368,73.296 516.035,74.965 C517.703,76.634 519.376,77.658 521.349,78.425 C523.257,79.167 525.438,79.673 528.631,79.82 C531.831,79.965 532.853,80.001 541,80.001 C549.148,80.001 550.169,79.965 553.369,79.82 C556.562,79.673 558.743,79.167 560.652,78.425 C562.623,77.658 564.297,76.634 565.965,74.965 C567.633,73.296 568.659,71.625 569.425,69.651 C570.167,67.743 570.674,65.562 570.82,62.369 C570.966,59.17 571,58.147 571,50 C571,41.851 570.966,40.831 570.82,37.631"></path></g></g></g></svg>View this post on Instagram
A Better (Regenerative) Cheese
Cheddies, like many brands, ran into supply chain snags during the pandemic. Sourcing fresh cheese in particular offered significant challenges, as massive players like Kraft and General Mills bought up all the available inventory. Unlike other commodities where the timing for getting ingredients is pretty straightforward, cheese requires an aging process of up to eight months.
They decided to get more security around their key ingredient and, at the same time, focus on sustainable sourcing from the best. That’s what led them to Alexandre Family Farm (featured in Episode 11) – the country’s first certified regenerative dairy. Their pitch? Pay Alexandre a premium for their regenerative milk not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s also the highest quality, nutrient-dense milk they could find. Alexandre agreed to partner with Cheddies, and together they’re using their crackers to put a spotlight on regenerative ag in the snack aisle.
“I encourage anyone to buy a box of Cheddies and Cheez-It® and compare the two. The other brands have plenty of ways to convince the consumer that their product is made with cheese, but the minute you try our product, it tastes like cheese, clean and natural. Once your palette recognizes the taste of real cheddar cheese, the other crackers will taste like cardboard.” – Francisco
Our Path to 50% Market Share 4 ReGen
How do we create compelling consumer messaging around regenerative products, speaking to the social and environmental benefits but also the quality of the ingredients and taste? For Francisco, food to a consumer is predominantly about flavor. He believes that consumers will resonate more with “tasty,” “cheesy,” and “crunchy” than even the best messaging around soil health. Food has to appeal visually, it has to draw the consumer in. They’re betting on consumers being more interested in taste, focusing their messaging on taste and quality (displaying a huge chunk of cheddar cheese on their packaging), while also educating consumers about regenerative ag on the backend of the transaction.
“We’re focused on getting enough following to where consumers are saying, ‘This brand is the best, most delicious cracker I’ve ever tasted.’ And then there’s this thing called regenerative – and that’s what we attribute to this product being so fantastic.” – Francisco
You can check out the full episode with Francisco from Cheddies HERE.
Subscribe to future episodes of the ReGen Brands Podcast on your favorite podcast platform using the buttons below. You can help support our mission of growing regenerative CPG brands with a 5-star rating!
Your support of the show and these brands truly means the world to us. Thank you!
This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober