With an increasing number of specialty cheeses hitting the market and consumers’ interest on the rise, retailers want to make the most of the category.
How best to present their burgeoning selection has them experimenting. Whether to organize their specialty cheese by country of origin, or by variety, or by brand, for example. These are the questions many retailers are asking themselves.
“We organize by type, and then by region,” Todd Templin, Dorothy Lane Market’s director of beer, wine and cheese, told SN.
“In the past, we had organized the display by country, but we think this works better. It’s more convenient for the customer.”
Templin said it might be easier for Dorothy Lane — a three-unit, upscale independent — to organize by country, “but it’s more important for the customer to have them grouped by variety. If a customer is looking for a blue, he goes to the blues. Then, our cheese associates can open a dialogue to see what else he might want.”
Murray’s Cheese shops within selected Kroger Co. stores also group the selection by cheese family, said Liz Thorpe, vice president, Murray’s Cheese, New York.
“Our intention is to offer both customers and associates good [and easy] reference points.”
Thorpe pointed out that when a customer walks into a store, they know gouda, cheddar, Brie, maybe blue.
“So that’s the way we do it, by style or family. We have nine different styles” in the display, Thorpe added.
“Signage names each group, uses three adjectives to describe it, and names the best-seller in that group.”
For example, one sign says “Bloomy. If you like: buttery, creamy, rich, we recommend: Brie, Triple Cream.”
On the other end of the spectrum from mild to strong-tasting cheese is a family designated “Washed rind. If you like: stinky, creamy, strong, we recommend raclette, Taleggio, Port Salut.”
In addition to the signs pointing out particular families of cheese, Murray’s Cheese shops have placed a card on each cheese that gives its name and a brief description. Notably, the back of the card bears information as well. It tells the cheese’s country of origin, the milk type it’s made from, whether the milk is pasteurized, and offers suggested wine pairings.
The back-of-the-card information is for the associate and also for the customer. There’s even more information on the scale label.
“We use every square inch of space we can to provide information,” she said.
Despite all of this information, Thorpe pointed out that all of these locations inside Kroger are staffed. Indeed, she said Kroger assigns 150 to 200 hours of labor to the Murray’s stores.
“Ours is a model that’s service-oriented. The expectation is there’s an associate there to explain further and to talk about pairings,” Thorpe said.
Customers at Kowalski’s Markets, St. Paul, Minn., have shown increasing interest in pairing cheese with wines and beer, said Terri Bennis, the nine-unit independent’s vice president of fresh foods.
“Our aim this year — in 2012 — is to focus on pairing cheese with wine. Last year, we had product cards that designated what type of milk the cheeses were made from. We had little symbols of goats, and sheep and cows in the upper right corner of the cards,” Bennis said. “Now, we’ve added a little bottle of red wine or white wine or a beer bottle symbol in the lower left corner of each.”
Offering the pairing tips on the cards is new. They’re being placed in cheese displays this week. Bennis said the addition of more information on the cards and signage, including the new pairing tips, has been customer-driven.
“It’s a result of the regular focus groups we hold with our customers.”
She spoke of a tremendous effort that went into pairing each cheese type with the right wine or beer.
“Hours and days went into making up these cards. Our wine stewards and buyers got together many, many times to find a wine or wines or a beer to pair with a particular cheese.”
Giving pairing information is important, because in Minnesota, wine or liquor stores have to be in a separate building.
“So a customer may have already bought a bottle of wine next door and is now looking for some cheeses.”
At Dorothy Lane, on a Saturday afternoon there may be a cheese tasting at the store’s wine bar (in Ohio, wine can be sold inside the grocery store).
“When we do that, we’ll have a tasting platter with several cheeses progressing from mild to strong, and we’ll match a wine to each, DLM’s Templin explained.
SN has been told that the closer the wine is to the specialty cheese, the better the cheese sales are.
“Our top-selling cheese shop in a Kroger store is right next to a wine shop in that store,” Liz Thorpe at Murray’s said. “That’s the ideal placement, but it’s not always possible unless it’s a new or remodeled store.”