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It can be difficult to know if a new trend is just a passing fad or something that could have legs. When it comes to cheese, we might think well-known favourites are a better bet than the latest trend on TikTok, but you only have to look at the trend for vegan cheeses to see that sometimes a trend can grow and take off until it becomes almost mainstream.
So, should indie retailers put their faith in new trends? Simon Warren from The East Street Deli thinks a good combination of the two, a middle ground, could be the way to go.
“In our cheese counter we make sure that we’ve got all the classics, Stilton, Cheddars, Goudas etc, but we also have a great selection of new and ‘on trend’ cheeses. But whilst the new ones often have a novelty effect, to boost sales for the long term you can’t beat the old classics if you want to grow sales.”
Classics make a comeback
It’s some of those classic cheeses that are on trend this year and making a solid come back. Stilton fell in popularity over recent years in favour of more unusual blue cheese, and while other, local blue cheeses are still popular, it’s Stilton that’s on the rise again.
“We have seen sales of Stilton grow year on year,” says Simon. “Mainly after each Christmas when it features on nearly every cheeseboard.”
Carolyn Hopkins from The Truckle Truck has noticed a rise in traditional cheeses and especially cheese that has a tie to a particular location. “There’s been a very big increase in purchases of the very traditional, territorial cheeses, like Lancashire, Wensleydale, and Caerffili.” This trend ties into the rising desire for local products. In cheese buying this trend works two ways.
Customers are always interested in a cheese local to where they are, but many customers also love trying cheeses that are ‘local’ to other locations, like Wensleydale and Caerffili. For Simon, this means always keeping a good selection of British cheeses to cover these trends.
“There is definitely a greater demand for British and local cheeses and so we have probably increased the range of each of these. We’re very lucky to have some great local cheese suppliers in Dorset and so we try to support them as well as possible whilst maintaining a range of cheese from slightly further afield and some that are a little more obscure.”
The weird and the wonderful
At the other end of the scale are the more adventurous cheeses. Unlike classic cheeses, these tend to not go in and out of fashion and once they are gone they are gone. Crazy flavours in cheese are a novelty, but as Carolyn has found, you have to be careful that a trend doesn’t mean a compromise on quality.
“I don’t generally stock blended cheeses. There are a handful of cheesemakers whom I’ll make an exception for because I know they won’t compromise on the quality for the sake of the novelty. Some trends do tie into that. Wild garlic is a particular favourite at the moment, but by and large I wouldn’t just stock something just because it’s on trend.”
Gauging which trends will work for you and which won’t is a lesson learned through time and experience. As Simon Warren says, you can almost feel what will work for you, and sometimes a trend isn’t the right fit, even if a customer asks for it.
You can end up knowing your customers better than they know themselves. “You’ve got to be careful not to go with all of the customer requests. Now that we have been here for a number of years it’s slightly easier to know which products will work and which won’t. We keep our range as tight as possible, so you really need to know your customer base and what their tastes are otherwise you can end up with a range that is slightly irrelevant to the customer.”
Getting the balance right
The two trends of crazy flavours and classic cheeses are miles apart, in many ways, but having a good balance between the two and knowing how to present them could be the key to staying on trend.
“You need a mix, but we really try to make sure our classics feature prominently in our counter,” says Simon. “It’s so important to have new, interesting, fun and on trend products across the store, not just in the cheese counter, but we make sure that they don’t take over. Classic cheeses make up such a large part of our sales so it’s vital they’re always available.”
Carolyn agrees, and believes the way forward is to rotate the stock, so that trend cheeses always have a place beside traditional cheese. “As an indie retailer, it’s a balancing act. Keeping a core group of staples is essential, but judicious use of trendy/quirky cheeses can keep customers interested and coming back to see what’s new. I generally have about 40% of cheeses in the counter that are always there, 40% that rotate in regularly and the rest are occasional ‘visitors’.”
What to look out for
While we do seem to have a nostalgic longing for more classic cheeses at the moment, we’re also looking abroad at what other cheese makers are doing, and making it our own, while also being more aware of sustainability and seasonal produce.
“A lot of the newer British artisan cheeses are taking inspiration from classic European styles,” says Carolyn. “There are a lot of washed rind cheeses coming onto the market now, for example, and some triple cream styles. There’s also a trend to produce more seasonally, Hebden Goat or St James for example, using the milk when it’s at its best for cheesemaking, rather than producing cheeses that vary a lot throughout the year.”
And are those crazy flavours, like a cream tea cheese, here to stay? Carolyn, begrudgingly, thinks so. “I think there will always be a market for the very weird blended cheeses, even if it’s just for the ‘shock’ factor. It’s here to stay, unfortunately.”