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WHEN WEST DES MOINES, Iowa-based Hy-Vee opened its first location in Wisconsin two years ago, the company knew the store would need a great cheese program. And, store officials have found that monthly cheese club events have been a great way to educate customers and build buzz around the category.

Hy-Vee has added chefs in many of its stores, noted Ruth Comer, assistant vice president, media relations, and these chefs, as well as local cheese makers, address members of newly formed clubs.

Deli manager Patrick Tinder commented on the Madison store's relationship with cheese makers.

“I've seen the passion they have for their work and for their products and I want our customers to have that connection,” Tinder said. “I want them to know this isn't just cheese, there's a story behind it.”

Tinder said he believes we're just at the beginning of a growth trend.

“We feel the cheese industry is where wine was 15 years ago in this country. We're getting more knowledgeable about it,” Tinder said.

“We've had several regional meetings to which we've invited local cheese makers. They talk about their company and the cheeses they make. Through our distributor we've also had some imported cheeses represented. Sometimes, our wine and spirits specialist gets involved, too, to do some pairings.”

Now, the cheese club gives him another opportunity to educate customers, Tinder said.

“It's the tasting and the story that sells it. When they learn about the cheese, customers take ownership of it. They like to tell their friends what they've learned.”