Sweet dreams are made of cheese

Six ways to make your specialty cheese sales soar

Now that more people are travelling and tasting unique cheeses from around the world, they’re more apt to experiment at home, too. Here’s how to encourage shoppers to take a chance on fine and specialty cheeses at the grocery store.

Customers appreciate staff who can knowledgeably talk about products and where they come from. Make a point to meet with your team regularly to discuss your latest cheeses and make sure they are all tasting the products, says Diane Chiasson, a Toronto-based food merchandising and retail expert. “They should be able to tell customers if is pungent, salty or sweet and what it pairs well with,” she explains. “Customers will trust someone who’s tried the product and can talk confidently about it.”

Ensure there are some great cheese accompaniments situated close to your display. Think beyond crackers and jams to baguettes, nuts, honey and dark chocolate (the latter pairs well with sweet cheeses). If you carry alcohol, suggest wine pairings; even if you don’t, customers will appreciate suggestions about which wines or other beverage options complement particular cheeses.

For busy customers, convenience is king. Have a variety of pre-made cheese trays on hand, especially during the start of weekends and holidays when shoppers are more apt to entertain. Make sure you have smaller cuts of cheese handy for the budget-conscious or impulse shopper. And consider providing a checklist of cheese options for customers to fill in that will be assembled and ready for pick up by the time they’re finished shopping, suggests Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing. “Or provide a DIY card if they want to assemble it themselves,” she says. “Cheese, like wine, can be intimidating, so the more you can guide them the better.”

Tasting is believing, and research shows that those who try will feel more obliged to buy. “But don’t leave unidentified cheese to dry up on plate,” says Chiasson. “Have someone there who is enthusiastic about the product, and offer recipe options too.” If you must leave cheese samples unattended, make sure they’re displayed with toothpicks, kept at the proper temperature and clearly labelled.

Showcase unique or seasonal cheeses at the centre of your display with various heights using jars and boxes, says Megan Potgieter, category manager for cheese, deli and pre-pack meals at Pusateri’s Fine Foods. Think about grouping colours such as bright yellow cheeses to “create a romantic fall feel,” she adds. Cheese displays that are interesting, neat and abundantly stocked are the most inviting. And don’t forget to place the pairings (such as crackers, jellies, etc.) within easy reach. “It’s really about creating excitement through your displays that will draw people in,” says Potgieter.

Remember, you don’t have to go too far to find interesting new cheeses. All-natural, artisanal cheeses from Quebec and Manitoba, for example, are considered among the best in class. Plus, customers love to support their local markets. Lynne Roy, manager, product marketing at Manitoba-based Bothwell Cheese, says today’s shoppers are always on the lookout for natural cheeses with a “clean” label (i.e., no modified milk, artificial colours/flavours or preservatives). “Customers are seeking local, Canadian products and are gravitating towards brands that offer transparency in their food supply, which to them represents higher food safety standards,” she says. When possible, invite the cheese maker to your stores to speak to staff and customers about new products and their cheese-making process.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s November 2018 issue.