Skip to main content

Cheese please!

From fresh and natural to locally produced, the cheese category is in the midst of a renaissance thanks to product innovation and knowledgeable front-line staff.

There was a time when mozzarella and Parmigiano cheese were considered exotic by mainstream tastes. By today’s standards, as cooking shows and global travels expand consumers’ palates, those Italian cheeses are old news. Now, grocers are expected to stock a variety of gourmet and artisanal products. Some retailers have already begun rejuvenating their storefronts with knowledgeable cheese experts.

Pusateri’s Fine Foods in Toronto employs an in-house cheesemonger who not only keeps a close watch on trends, but also mentors new and existing staff. According to John Mastroianni, Pusateri’s general manager, sales in this category increase up to nine per cent when a cheese expert showcases a product. When cheese is paired with complementary food such as a jelly spread or cracker, sales can rise dramatically. “In a seven-hour demo, we can sell up to 120 jars of fig spread along with the cheese that is being promoted,” he notes. As far as consumer response goes, “consumers love the fact that they can ask questions, sample a new product and interact with an expert–their very own ‘in-store Google.’ ”

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. also employs cheese experts in 100 of its banner locations throughout Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, according to Gurth Pretty, Loblaw’s senior category manager for deli and cheese. He notes that it’s important for retailers to be aware of regional differences when it comes to customer knowledge of cheese. He says Quebec consumers have been supporting their local cheese makers for some time now, whereas consumers in Ontario and Atlantic Canada are just starting to discover the textures and flavours of Canadian artisanal cheeses.

Solange Heiss, assistant director of marketing and nutrition communications at the Dairy Farmers of Canada, says specialty cheese sales continue to trend upward in Canada. She cites the latest Nielsen figures, which show specialty cheese consumption up 2.3 per cent. Leading the charge are ethnic cheese such as Canadian Paneer, Canadian Halloumi, Canadian Fresh Burrata and organic and flavoured cheese, Heiss says.

In addition to on-site product specialists, past trends have shown a strong life-cycle chain in new product dairy sales. Look no further than the Greek yogurt phenomenon. Similarly, Nielsen reports a four per cent surge in national cheese purchases resulting in more than $2.2 billion in natural cheese sales. Those numbers come as no surprise to Lynne O’Heare of St-Albert Cheese Co-operative in St. Albert, Ont., who says three-quarters of their total sales come from fresh cheese curds and blocks.

By all appearances, fresh, locally produced cheese will continue to grow sales and loyalty for grocers willing to dedicate resources and space to this burgeoning category.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds