CINCINNATI — While Steven Jenkins, executive vice president of New York’s Fairway Market, recently predicted that the big chains will “finally get it” this year and make important changes in their approach to artisanal cheese, Kroger Co. , one of the country’s largest chains, is already there.
Kroger partnered a few years ago with legendary Murray’s Cheese of New York to get it right, and that partnership continues.
As of the end of 2012, Kroger had full-service Murray’s cheese shops within 67 of its own stores across the country.
With that total, the Murray’s-Kroger team surpassed its goal of getting Murray’s cheese stores in 50 Kroger units by the end of 2012. The most recent was installed in Colorado in December.
“That store is near Aspen. We wanted to get it ready and open as the ski season got underway,” Deena Siegelbaum, Murray’s director of marketing, said.
Read more: Independents Say Cheese 
The most recent installations have been in King Soopers and City Market, both Kroger Co. banners in Colorado, Siegelbaum said.
Murray’s, continuing its plan with Kroger, now has its stores within Kroger units in nine states across the country, including, recently, Fred Meyer stores.
“The partnership is working out well, and we’ll continue to put more of our stores in Krogers this year,” Siegelbaum said.
Prior to an in-store Murray’s installation, training in artisanal/specialty cheese is very thorough, Siegelbaum pointed out.
“It’s like a cheese boot camp. They [selected Kroger employees] get ‘red jacket trained’ by our people.”
“Red jacket trained” means that when they’ve completed training and have passed a test, the Kroger associates have earned the right to wear a Murray’s red jacket. The Murray’s-trained Kroger “cheese masters” are then dedicated to Murray’s-within-Kroger stores.
Kroger and Murray’s launched their first Murray’s-within-a-Kroger in 2008 in one of three Cincinnati Kroger banner stores that were to be part of a pilot test. The trial run worked so well in those stores that plans soon were made to install Murray’s branded stores in additional Kroger stores.
“Sales increases were significant,” Robert Kaufelt, president of Murray’s Cheese, told SN at the time the planned expansion was announced. “When the specialty cheese departments in those [three pilot] stores were replaced with Murray’s, sales rose 50% to 100%.”
Shortly afterward, the two companies contracted to open Murray’s stores in 50 Kroger stores across the country, usually keeping their store openings ahead of schedule.
As the openings went on, the concept underwent some change. In some Kroger stores, additional space was made for the Murray’s store, and accoutrements such as pickled plums and jams were added to displays. Training was ramped up and so was merchandising.
In fact, just about a year ago, Murray’s added product information in its inside-Kroger stores that identifies local and sustainably produced cheeses. They’re identified with distinctive product cards.
The search for local cheeses and new ways to merchandise cheese goes on. And the expansion into additional Kroger stores across the country will definitely continue, Siegelbaum said.
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