DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Central Market, an independent supermarket here, tuned up its specialty cheese sales with a different kind of promotion this summer.
Fresh mozzarella, brie, parmesan and Cady Creek Farms' all-natural, smoked gouda and Montera, among others, were paired with fruit, tomatoes, crusty bread and crackers all merchandised to look like party fare.
Meanwhile the music of The Eagles, Moody Blues and Fleetwood Mac fired up associates and customers alike. A huge flat television screen, mounted at the store's cheese island, could be seen from several aisles away.
“It generated so much activity,” deli manager Cindy Hilgers told SN. “We sold as much cheese in one day as we normally sell in a week, and we tripled our store traffic. More than tripled it.”
The “Cheese in Concert” promotion, developed by broker/marketer Cheese & Deli Sales, Chicago, is meant to showcase specialty cheese as a major component of any well-done spread when entertaining.
Hilgers said the promotion had a lasting effect. Cheese sales stayed at a heightened level for quite a while, she said.
Other departments, too, benefited from the promotion and the traffic it generated. The in-store bakery's bread sales — especially sales of breads that were paired with cheese in the sampling — got a big boost that day, said Bob Hilgers, the store's deli/bakery director.
Recipes, as well as brochures, some of them provided by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, were handed out to customers. The colorful handouts gave customers suggestions about serving different cheeses “in concert” with other foods and with particular wines and beers.
Central Market doesn't carry wine, so its pairings centered on fruit and some deli products. For example, caprice salad, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil, was one feature. So were appetizer kabobs, with small, fresh mozzarella balls, quarter slices of salami and cherry tomatoes.
“We also had a huge bowl of antipasto salad, with several different kinds of cheese in it. A lot of people wanted that recipe. We offered customers recipes for everything we sampled.”
The 62,000-square-foot store is a popular destination in the summer, when vacationers just about double the population of this small, lake-area town, Cindy Hilgers said.
“I was impressed by the [cross-section] of age groups,” Hilgers said. “That so many older people were interested in the different types of cheeses surprised me, I guess, because I know they didn't grow up with them.”
Actually, one woman had her first taste of fresh mozzarella that festive day in the store.
“She had been making caprice salad with regular mozzarella. I told her to stop that, that she should be using fresh mozzarella,” Hilgers said.
Another customer hadn't known what mascarpone cheese was until she tasted it during the promotion, Hilgers said.
“We carry a big selection of cheeses, about 300. Specialty cheese makes up about 20% of our deli sales, I'd say. We sell 12 cases of fresh mozzarella a week.”
For a supermarket located in a town with a population of less than 10,000, Central Market has an impressive share of savvy customers.
“In addition to our regular customers, there are the summer tourists who vacation on the lakes. They come here from all over the country,” Hilgers said.
The Food Channel, too, has whetted consumers' appetites for different items, including cheeses they may not have been familiar with.
“People come in carrying recipes they've copied down while watching food shows, so we keep up-to-date. We try to be as ‘big city’ as we can,” Hilgers said.
The Cheese in Concert promotion is set for an encore later this year, during the holiday season.
“Then, we'll play Christmas music, maybe some Frank Sinatra,” said John Landemeyer, part owner of cheese manufacturer Cady Creek Farms, Green Bay, Wis.
Landemeyer, others from Cady Creek and brokers' representatives have participated in a number of Cheese in Concert promotions across the country this summer.
“About a hundred since we started doing these early in the year,” Landemeyer said. “A lot of independents. Lunds/Byerly's was the most recent. And I'll be showing how [the promotion] works at Nash Finch's food show this week.
“The whole promotion is so different it brings attention to the category, and increases sales significantly.”
Landemeyer said retailers generally experience a 20% to 30% lift in sales the day of the promotion.