12 January 2022, 07:22 AM
  • Edward Hancock, founder of Cheesegeek explains why the subscription business model is perfectly suited to seasonal products like cheese
Is a subscription model right for your business?

Within the food and drink industry, a subscription model has long been viewed as a successful addition or alternative to a transactional, or one-off purchase, model. In fact, the British spend £2 billion annually on subscription services and the market is growing across all industries.

One of the main benefits of having a subscription offering is having a predictable, recurring revenue stream that enables business planning, budgeting and of course provides financial security. Secondly, having a captive, regular customer base facilitates the creation of a community, and as you learn more about that customer and their behaviour, you’re able to curate and personalise their experiences, improving their experience, and in doing so build loyalty.

Ultimately, this creates a journey for your customer that includes your brand or product and significantly increases their lifetime value. It becomes as much a partnership as a transaction.

When cheesegeek first launched in late 2017, we knew we wanted to include a subscription-based offering alongside our core range of products, but we succeeded with launching it in January 2019. You can opt for a subscription-based model for yourself or gift a subscription, which we’ve found to be a really popular option, with 39% of our annual revenue attributed to subscriptions.

Rolling subscribers can get their artisan cheese every one, two or three months while we offer gift subscriptions for every three, six, nine or 12 months. We also offer the option to bespoke your box for that extra personal touch.

Within the cheese industry though, there are some very specific reasons why I wanted to make the subscription model central to what we do, and this can be applied to any seasonal business.

First of all, there is a huge choice within the cheese industry, and artisan cheese itself is as seasonal as fruit and vegetables. The reality, therefore, is that if you only eat cheese at Christmas (which most of us do) you are missing out on these seasonal cycles and batch variations. For example, goat’s milk cheese is particularly fantastic in the spring, but equally, in the case of many of our specific cheeses, we find they are far better at certain times of the year. Having a subscription is a fantastic way to explore seasonal cheese all-year-round, and experience batch variety too.

Secondly, there is exploration. Given the choice we are blessed with in our industry, sometimes a cheese counter can be daunting, and choice paralysis often leads to ‘sticking with what we know.’ I would say the majority of cheese enthusiasts I come across tend to stick within their universe of 10-15 cheeses (maximum!). It might explain why we have nearly 1,000 varieties of British cheese, but most of us could probably name only 1% of those. I have also lost count of the times I have heard someone say “I don’t like blue cheese” or “I don’t like goat’s milk cheese” and across many other categories.

By curating new cheeses every month for our subscribers and ensuring every subscriber journey is unique to them we can genuinely broaden cheese lovers’ horizons, no matter their level of knowledge. Crucially, we provide information on each cheese within their delivery, as well as pairing tips and even the recommended order they should eat the cheeses in. It is a completely unique customer experience, and so important in creating a bond between the customer and their cheese, rather than just a one-off, isolated moment. Most of us will immediately recollect that time they tried a great cheese and now can’t remember its name.

This is something we are determined to eliminate, and the routine and experience of our subscription offerings work to achieve this.

The third is freshness and wastage. These are two further, interlinked and wonderful benefits to the subscription model. It means we have fantastic, and predictable visibility, in advance, of much of our demand. By having this ability to accurately forecast, it means we can confidently commit to larger orders from our cheesemakers, and, crucially, the cheese comes in whole, is cut, and goes out almost immediately. This enables a level of freshness that is very hard to match but also results in a very low level of wastage. There is something quite extraordinary about eating a cheese that was only cut for the first time less than 48 hours ago. When customers taste the quality and appreciate the experience, they’ll keep coming back for more.

Finally, there is a huge commercial benefit to the subscription model within the cheese industry. Despite the cheese industry being so established and historic, the majority of mongers will still do 60-70% of their business for the entire year in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. This puts huge pressure on the monger, but also the cheesemaker as a result. To achieve the capacity to handle this demand, it means you have significantly spare capacity for the rest of the year.

Given cheese is a genuinely seasonal product, building a successful subscription model not only provides the consumer with a better experience but also makes a whole lot of commercial sense as well all the way down the supply chain. In the future, I expect to see many more businesses take up this model as we fight to hold onto loyal customers in a competitive market.