As the holiday season gets into swing, retailers are employing two obvious tactics to grow new specialty cheese sales. They're looking to get customers to take a step up to a higher-end cheese, and they're often doing it by cutting cheese into smaller wedges to diminish sticker shock.
“If there's one time you can take customers up to another level, it's during the holidays,” said Tanney Staffenson, advisor to Lamb's Thriftway, Portland, Ore. Lamb's is doing that at one store by bringing its “everyday cheese” over to the same area where specialty cheese is merchandised. There, a newly hired cheese steward is enticing customers with tastes of cheese they may not have tried before. That's true elsewhere, too.
“What I'm seeing [this year] in the Twin Cities is a new focus on demos where the story behind local, artisan cheese is being told. Now, I see it at Cub and Costco as well as at others,” John Pazahanick, partner in Merchandising By Design/The Design Associates, Carrollton, Texas, said about cheese trends in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Terry Roberts, founder of Merchandising By Design/The Design Associates, told SN that adding new varieties to pique interest and letting customers taste them is paramount.
“The specialty cheese consumer is typically not a price-sensitive shopper. Therefore, if you can capture this customer with your selection, your knowledgeable staff, and some entertaining and gift ideas, they'll be your better customer for other higher-end items in deli, meats, seafood, and wines as well,” Roberts said.
But unit price is a hurdle. At Pennington Quality Market, Pennington, N.J., where some newly sourced cheeses are priced at $30 a pound and more, they're attractively packaged in sizes that don't exceed $10. And Ferguson & Hassler in Quarryville, Pa., has introduced a “junior” cheese tray with a price tag of $13.99.
Recent research conducted by Mintel, a consumer research firm based in Chicago, shows 56% of specialty cheese is bought at supermarkets, and that may be because of customers' perception of value.
“Supermarkets jointly succeed by reaching two consumer sweet spots — good variety coupled with good value,” Mintel's study states.