MADISON, Wis. — Cheese curds and beer are a snacking tradition in Wisconsin, and one Hy-Vee location here has found that a simple cross-promotion can help boost sales of both.
The promotion actually began as the solution to a merchandising dilemma. Cheese curds — the “young” bits of cheese that are usually milled, pressed and then aged to make cheddar — had always been a popular impulse item at the location. Shoppers would grab them up from tabletop displays near the front of the store. But, state regulations prohibit the sale of curds that are unrefrigerated for more than 24 hours.
Through a longstanding promotion at the store facilitated by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, customers receive $2 off any Wisconsin cheeses they buy, when they also buy a six-pack of Leinenkugel beer, based in nearby Chippewa Falls. Merchandising both items in a cooler near the front of the store has proved to be a good fit.
“We would get fresh curds in every Tuesday and Friday afternoon, package them up in 1-pound containers, and set them out on a table in the front of the store,” Deli Manager Patrick Tinder told SN. “They sold great. We had a lot of success with them.”
But, a state health inspector informed the store of the refrigeration requirements, and “that's how we came up with the idea for the Leinenkugel cooler,” Tinder added.
Since the cooler was installed two months ago, the location has been selling approximately 100 pounds of cheese curds per week, according to WMMB. Side panels on the cooler highlight recipe pairings that feature Leinenkugel beers and Wisconsin cheeses, and Tinder plans to merchandise other cheeses in the cooler, including a Wisconsin cheese of the month.
“We're constantly promotion cheese here and throughout our company,” Tinder said. “We have a cheese of the month program where we feature the cheese and offer a nice discount and really try to educate the customer about a particular cheese. That's a promotion that we do companywide.”
The Madison location also has a cheese club that meets once per month.
“We'll usually feature a local Wisconsin cheese company, and bring in someone from that company to talk to a group of customers about their products,” Tinder explained. “And, we'll also have a beer and wine specialist that discusses beer and wine pairings with the cheese. The customers can sample the pairings, and our in-store chef will prepare a dish using a cheese from that particular company. So they get to eat a bit of food, drink a little wine, and everybody goes home happy.”
As for the curds, they have a short, seven-day shelf life, and they can start to dry out even more quickly than that. And, if curds are refrigerated prior to being separated into individual containers, they can start to knit together. So, they have to be sold locally. The Madison Hy-Vee gets its supply from Cedar Grove Cheese in nearby Plain, Wis.
That's one factor that makes the curd cross-promotion unique. Tinder said that a couple of other Hy-Vee locations across the state line in Dubuque, Iowa, also offered curds from Cedar Grove, but noted that it would probably be difficult to expand this particular program much further.
“It's a logistical challenge,” he said. “You've got seven days to sell fresh cheese curds from the day that they're made. If you're trying to take cheese curds that were made in Wisconsin and sell them in Kansas, that's an issue.”