Therese Meers ’02 majored in art history at Duke and then went on to get her master’s in art history. She thought she’d pursue a teaching career, but eventually she realized she wanted to do more than research and writing.
She went to law school to better understand the business world, and she delved into contract law.
When she graduated in 2008, Meers joined a large law firm, but soon lost her job as the economy spiraled and her firm started to downsize.
Meers had to find a new plan, but ultimately, her next step led her down an entrepreneurial path.
She took a two-year fellowship at Harvard, where she had attended law school. In this position, she offered legal help to entrepreneurs as they started businesses. Because so many people had lost their jobs with the economic downturn, it was a booming time for startups as people reinvented themselves and their careers.
As she planned her wedding with her now-husband Phil Meers, the two began to talk about starting a business together.
Phil was an athlete, and high-protein yogurt had become a major part of the couple’s lives. However, they had seen some of their favorite brands of yogurt become too commercialized, increasing prices while decreasing serving sizes.
So they decided to make their own yogurt, with the goals of keeping the sugar low, the protein high and the price affordable. They began playing with recipes in 2013, and a year later, they formally started Viking Grass-Fed Icelandic Yogurt.
Meers used her love of history and the research skills she’d learned at Duke and beyond to learn about the Vikings, who brought yogurt to North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus landed there.
Viking Grass-Fed Icelandic Yogurt, which uses the Vikings’ original recipes, is now offered in six flavors – Pure, Vanilla, Strawberry, Blueberry, Cucumber Mint and the newly launched Coconut Crème. It is now sold in nearly 1,000 stores across the nation, including in Sprouts Farmers Market, a quickly growing grocery chain that just opened its first store in Raleigh.
Although the competition for shelf space in grocery stores is fierce, Meers said Viking Grass-Fed Icelandic Yogurt sets themselves apart by using four cups of milk for each cup of yogurt. This makes the yogurt naturally sweeter, reducing the need for added sweeteners, and increases the protein.
Meers also holds the company to other standards. They sell 6-ounce servings, larger than some of their competitors, and reduce waste by packaging the yogurt in one recyclable piece. Their yogurt comes from grass-fed cows, and they only work with family farms.
Another of the couple’s core values, Meers said, was to not take outside investment. They were able to start Viking Grass-Fed Icelandic Yogurt by bootstrapping.
They didn’t want to risk selling out to an investor and having their yogurt become commercialized like other brands they had seen.
Meers advised would-be entrepreneurs to save as much money as they could and to be careful about their equity.
“You never know how successful your business could be eventually, so you don’t want to sell it before you even know its value,” she said.
To learn more about Viking Grass-Fed Icelandic Yogurt, visit its website.
To read about more Duke Entrepreneurs, click here.