NEW YORK -- Fairway Markets here tied its Israeli cheeses and other kosher dairy products into the Jewish holiday, Shavuot, with good sales results, officials told SN.
The upscale retailer was one of the first to start carrying Israeli artisanal cheeses when they became available. Last year it took on six varieties of the kosher sheep's- and goat's-milk cheeses. Then, this summer, with the help of the Israeli Dairy Board, it put them in the limelight with signs calling attention to a Jewish holiday that involves feasting on dairy products. Shavuot means "weeks" and refers to the timing of the feasting celebration, seven weeks after Passover. The holiday also marks the time the farmers of Israel would traditionally bring their first harvest to Jerusalem as a token of Thanksgiving.
"Merchandising is always important, and it's especially true around holidays in which food plays a key role. For the Jewish holidays such as Shavuot, calling attention to the Israeli dairy [products] makes sense and helped drive sales," said Steven Jenkins, author of "The Cheese Primer" and a member of the management team at three-unit Fairway.
Others in the fresh-food industry have long suggested making note of ethnic holidays, even obscure ones, in merchandising plans if the area's demographics are a fit.
Karen Caplan, president of Frieda's, a Los Alamitos, Calif.-based specialty-produce company, supplies her retailer customers with promotional calendars listing holidays some people may have never heard of. Making note of them attracts attention and can boost total sales in the department, she said. This is the first time Fairway has done that with Shavuot.
The six Israeli cheeses Fairway carries include one of the most popular imports, according to Carey Franco, manager of kosher/specialty cheeses, at Atalanta Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., one of the largest importers in the United States. The company imports the Israeli cheeses merchandised at Fairway, and Franco said they're all doing well.
"Tavor is a very good seller," Franco said. "It's a 100% sheep's milk and is shaped like Mt. Tavor, a mountain in Israel. It has a soft molding on the outside and will ripen like a Brie. It's best aged. That's when you can taste its sheepiness."
One consumer, a Fairway shopper, said Tavor was probably her favorite of the group, but she said she also likes shahat, which is made from a mixture of goat's milk and sheep's milk.
Jenkins samples a vast variety of cheeses, imported and domestic, constantly at Fairway and seems to delight in acquainting customers with cheeses they haven't tried.
"I've been helping consumers discover cheeses from around the world for some time, and it's very rewarding to see the current boom in cheese interest," Jenkins said. "Israel produces some fine artisan cheeses, and while they offer more options to the kosher consumer, you don't have to keep kosher to enjoy them."
Israeli cheeses are relatively new to this country, Franco told SN.
"Nobody was importing them before two years ago," he said. "That's when we started bringing them in. We represent Barkanit cheese, all artisanal, made by a cheesemaker in the Gilboa Valley section of Israel.
"They're catching on. The first year we brought in about 200 pounds every two months. Now, it's 2,000 pounds every month."
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., carries the cheeses in selected stores. So does Whole Foods Markets, Austin, Texas, and New York City-based Zabar's.