February 29th, 2016Cutting in: Retailers capitalize on high demand for specialty cheese

The growing desire for bold flavors and fresh, artisan ingredients is leading many shoppers to the specialty cheese case. The question for managers is: How do they make the sale?

At Kowalski’s Markets, Woodbury, Minn., customer education paired with generous sampling has paid off over the years. Each of the company’s 10 stores employs a cheese specialist who engages shoppers and helps them make selections. Joe Moore, Kowalski’s specialty cheese director, said his specialists are the key ingredient in getting customers, especially novice cheese shoppers, to try new varieties.

“I think a lot of customers can get overwhelmed,” said Moore. “So I think it’s our responsibility to help the customer feel comfortable in the section and to help guide them towards something they’d like.”

Free samples certainly don’t hurt. Moore said his departments run daily sampling stations, often as part of displays that showcase the featured cheeses. Varieties that respond well to sampling, he noted, are Gouda and various types of cheddar.

“Whether it’s a silent demo or a staffed demo, or if we’re cutting a package open and somebody has a question, we like to let customers try our cheese,” said Moore.

Knowledgeable service is also a cornerstone of the specialty cheese department at Dave’s Marketplace, East Greenwich, R.I. Cheese manager Ron Thompson, who works out of the local store, regularly approaches shoppers to see if they need help, and encourages his employees at Dave’s nine locations to do the same. Not every customer needs assistance, he said, but many do, and often they’re receptive to a sales push that can put product in their basket.

“Getting out there and talking to the customers is big,” said Thompson. “A lot of times customers are out there and they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Market research shows that specialty cheese is becoming increasingly important to the deli department and throughout the store. According to a recent report from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, citing data from Nielsen Perishables Group, specialty cheese accounts for nearly two-thirds of deli cheese sales, and is largely responsible for the category’s 6% to 8% growth over the past several quarters. Popular varieties include havarti, which increased sales volume by nearly 1 million pounds between 2013 and 2015, and Gouda, which increased by nearly 2 million pounds over the same period.

Sales of domestic cheeses, in particular, are seeing marked growth. Moore said he’s getting more demand for local cheeses from Minnesota as well as neighboring Wisconsin, a state that has a long history of cheese production. He cited Mankato, Minn.-based Alemar Cheese Co. as a strong performer. In a similar vein, Thompson said he’s sourcing varieties domestically, like Stilton, that he has traditionally sourced from international suppliers.

Article by: Supermarket News

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