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March Business Spotlight: Punk Rawk Labs

A rapidly growing dairy alternative gourmet cheese business.

Longfellow Market Collage SHAPREN

Left: Business partners Julie Morgan Wellman (left) and Allisa Barthel (right), Top Right: Punk Rawk Labs nacho cheese flavor, Bottom Right: New square packaging

Originally a food blog, Punk Rawk Labs (PRL) is a rapidly growing dairy alternative gourmet cheese business. Run out of a customized kitchen in the Corcoran neighborhood that is part manufacturing facility/part lab, PRL is owned and operated by business partners Julie Morgan Wellman, Alissa Barthel and Heidi Ochsner. With a team of nine employees, PRL produces 300-800 delicious squares of 4 oz. cheese made from cashews, water, culture, and salt every five days using a process similar to traditional dairy fermentation.  
The cheese was not always square. In late 2014, the City of Minneapolis connected PRL to its Homegrown Loan program. As a Minneapolis business promoting sustainable food production, PRL was a perfect candidate for the program. With a $10K two-percent loan administered by MCCD, PRL redesigned their round packaging to a square container as well as used funds to save money and buy packaging in bulk. The investment paid off. PRL was able to reduce their price point and the new package made them more attractive to distributors as it was less likely to roll off the shelf. These two things helped seal a deal with a major distributor and gain a contract with 11 Seattle grocery stores (with the potential for distribution in 550 additional West Coast stores). The packaging change also keeps the product colder longer and increases onsite storage capacity.
As Julie, Alissa and Heidi look to the future, they imagine they will need to add a second shift to meet the growing product demand. Longer term, they are considering expanding by adding a juice and retail shop, and are thinking about a second location on the West Coast.
You can find PRL cheeses in any local co-op grocery. Flavors include original, herb, smoked with a pepper crust, and nacho. Truffle will be coming soon.
Watch PRL on The Today Show

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Last updated Mar 27, 2015