How to breathe new life into cheese displays

11 February 2022, 07:31 AM
  • Cheese sellers can bring their in-store experience to life by sparking customers’ imaginations with dazzling displays
How to breathe new life into cheese displays

From towering stacks of clothbound Cheddar rounds to oozing wedges of truffled Brie, there’s something undeniably eye-catching about artisan cheese. But displays can quickly go from enticing, sales-boosting tools to distracting labyrinths for customers if mongers aren’t careful.

Less is more

When fitting out your cheese counter, there can be a temptation to throw everything you have at customers in the hopes of pleasing every taste bud, but cheese experts tell Speciality Food that less can be more. Rory Mellis of IJ Mellis Cheesemongers advises retailers not to crowd their cheeses. “In our stores, one thing I’m always trying to drill through is never put too much on the bench. We’ve always had nice marble counters, and I feel that the cheese needs a little bit of room to display the marble counter a little bit and give people the opportunity to move from cheese to cheese, rather than just looking at a block of lots of different cheeses in one area,” he says. A less hectic display can still offer a vibrant delight for customers. “Don’t be afraid to put nice, big rounds on there because your cheese bench is the first thing that the customer sees when they walk in the shop,” he adds.

Wendy Kammeier of the Corbridge Larder has learned first-hand that simple layouts are often best. “We tried what I call a ‘cheese theatre’ where we displayed the cheese quite dramatically and, in a way, haphazardly. This didn’t resonate with our regular clientele, or our staff for that matter, so we returned to our clean lines and organisation.” Orderly displays can offer plenty of avenues for wowing customers with creative layouts, Wendy has found. “We don’t have a flat display of cheese. We are lucky to have a quick turnaround, so we can afford to stack our cheeses sensibly high at the back of the counter, with baskets or slate and even cake stands for our small truckle cheeses at the very front.” If done well, providing different heights and sizes of cheeses will help catch the customer’s eye. 

Finding a flow

While large rounds are great for drawing customers in, think small by the tills. “What I was always taught when I was first starting out is to put your soft goat’s cheeses around the front of the till,” Rory says. “Anything soft, eye-catching or unusual, and anything below 250 grams, always focus on putting a big tower of those towards the till front, and try to keep it nice and neat and uniform.” Here, more is more. “If you put out 20 logs of goat’s cheese you’ll always sell about half of them. But if you put out three, you’ll never sell any,” Rory adds.

In the counter, cheeses should be arranged in a way that makes sense to the customer, for instance by type or region. And don’t be shy about arranging popular accompaniments nearby for an easy upsell and a better-looking display. “We add boxes of membrillo and fruits for cheese to add a splash of colour, as well as tubs of Mascarpone and Ricotta,” Wendy says. “Presentation of cut cheese also adds interest depending on cheese shape and size, which all adds to the interesting and eye-catching display we aspire to.”

Cheesemongers typically have good success with local cheeses, so don’t be afraid to put them pride of place in your shop and promote your local makers. Make these cheeses shine with special displays, messages displayed on chalkboards or even seasonal arrangements around any big local celebrations. Seasonal events also offer a chance to refresh the look of the shop. “Towards the spring and summertime, we put out a lot more softer cheeses, goat’s cheese and goat’s curd,” Rory says. “The biggest seasonal change for any cheesemonger is usually Christmas, and we tend to create a couple of displays with our most popular cheeses. Creating two piles of these on the on the counter really gives us that ability to have a customer focus and not have to move back and forth across the bench, especially towards the busy time. In the back of our heads, it’s always about how we can operate quickly and efficiently.”

Capturing the imagination

The striking veins of a blue cheese or the enticing pattern of a wrapped cheese will jump out to customers brilliantly, but an intriguing story can be equally as striking. “We love to sell quirky-named cheeses with a tale to tell,” Wendy says. Fascinating names offer a simple way to strike up conversation with a shopper. “I love to tell the story of a customer who bought some Stinking Bishop from us and took it back to their hotel on the coast. Of course, it was so stinky in the room that they hung it out of the window in a carrier bag that evening, only to wake and find their favourite cheese had been consumed by a seagull with discerning palate!”

Stories can take shape around a name or a description, and they offer a sure-fire way to capture customers’ imaginations and demystify the cheese journey for those who are new to the artisan food world. “We love names like Blue Murder, Baron Bigod and my personal favourite Wookey Hole, which is aged in the natural caves of the West Country,” Wendy adds. “I love engaging customers with a little cheese banter.”

Smart labelling

While names offer a great starting point for a curious customer, for those who want to know more, smart labelling can provide the right information – but beware of including long-winded paragraphs of cheese history. “Our labelling is clear and precise on small, black cards, which gives the customer a quick guide to what they are looking for,” Wendy says. The crucial bases must be covered, but apart from that it is up to the cheesemonger. “Of course, we state the name, price, type and if it is pasteurised or unpasteurised, or made with vegetarian rennet or animal, but I think too much information on display just makes the customer switch off,” Wendy adds. “The information we give allows for a more informative ‘cheesy’ conversation, which in my book leads to a more engaged customer and a successful cheese purchase.”

Rory agrees that bombarding the customer with written information makes for a negative customer experience. Instead, labels should inspire further conversation with the shop’s cheesemongers. “It’s one thing that’s changed over the past few years. I think when my dad started up, more information had to be on the card for the browsing element of shopping.” However, with today’s average customer being savvier about artisan cheese, retailers can leave more to be discovered with a sample. “With a larger knowledge of the products and people starting to gain a little bit more insight into the cheese, we don’t necessarily need to put as much on the card,” Rory explains. “We’re very strict in the fact that our staff are the ones who should be selling that product. We offer tasters, and I think that’s the best form [of information], as long as you’ve got your allergens on that card and your price, because no one will buy it if there’s no price.”

Remember the customer

Creating a stellar cheese display and balanced labelling will involve trial and error, but one thing to remember throughout the process is the customer journey. Rory suggests creating peaks and troughs with cheeses so as not to create a wall between your cheesemongers and your customers. “Don’t be afraid to have big cheeses towards the corner of your bench and lower cheeses towards the middle of the bench so that you still can see the customer. And if you do have a cutting board, put it on the front counter, because you should never be taking your eye off the customer and should always be customer facing,” he adds. “Doing as much as you can facing the customer and maintaining eye contact is always the best method.” By keeping these tips in mind, retailers will be able to craft a cheese display that’s practical, informative, and above all allows artisan cheeses to look as good as they taste.

Cheese care 101

One element of the cheese display which cannot be left up to creative interpretation is cheese care. Ensuring cheeses look their best with careful attention throughout the day is key to securing sales. “Cheese is living, and we should be kind to our cheese counters to ensure our babies look their very best every day,” Wendy says. “We check, trim and re-wrap on a daily basis to keep them in tip-top condition and looking as fresh as a daisy.” Monitoring the deli counter temperatures constantly is crucial for healthy cheese, but some products will need special attention. “Some cheeses mould quite quickly and some crack. Both issues are easily resolvable by wiping with paper towel or preventable by covering with a damp cloth,” Wendy adds. “All these actions will make your cheese counter sing.”

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