Why fine food retailers should keep it local with artisan cheese

05 May 2023, 07:41 AM
  • Local produce should be the cornerstone of your cheese counter, says Samantha Priestley. Here’s why
Why fine food retailers should keep it local with artisan cheese

Locally sourced produce is more popular with customers right now than it has been for a long time, but it’s also great for retailers. Stocking locally-made food is good for the environment, good for keeping costs down, and good for sales.

When it comes to cheese there’s already a solid customer base for British, but going that one step further and keeping it ultra-local, goes down even better with consumers. Simon Warren from The East Street Deli has seen the results of stocking more locally sourced cheese firsthand.

“We know that there is a big demand for ‘supporting local’ throughout our store and the cheese counter is the greatest example of that. 3 out of the 6 top-selling cheeses that we stock are from our county of Dorset and that demonstrates how loyal our customers are towards local suppliers and producers.”

That loyalty is apparent once customers can feel the connection between where they are buying their cheese and its origin.

Building relationships
Building those customer relationships to cement loyalty is important, but it’s also important to create lasting relationships with suppliers. It’s this chain of relationships that greases the wheels of the entire process.

“It’s vital to build a relationship with local suppliers,” says Simon. “When you know who they are and what they go through to deliver that product to your door it makes the sale to the customer so much easier.”

And this is always a two-way street, or even a three-way street. Loyalty builds loyalty, and this goes from supplier, to retailer, to customer. Simon Warren sees these relationships as an integral part of selling cheese.

“There’s nothing better than being able to show that we support a local supplier as they in turn support us. They’re able to give great service, help with in-store tastings and any other back-up support that is needed.

“If a cheese is ‘local’ we try to highlight how many miles it is produced from our front door which always sends out a good message. Selling cheese is so much easier and authentic if you know the fields that the cows graze in, know the people that make it by hand and know the person that delivers it every week.”

Local equals sustainable
And it’s not just about building relationships and creating great stories. Locally sourced produce is better for the environment. As more businesses adopt more sustainable practices, sourcing locally goes hand in hand with a sustainable outlook. Catrin Macdonnell from Papadeli sees sustainability and quality as two sides of the same coin.

“It fits with our ethos of stocking quality artisan produce which is as sustainable as possible. Supporting local makers supports the local economy and cuts down on air miles.”

Cutting down on air miles is also at the forefront of Simon Warren’s mind when it comes to how The East Street Deli source their cheese.

“We are very keen on making sure our products don’t travel unnecessary miles. If we can get a cheese direct from a local supplier versus getting it from a wholesaler, we go direct. Yes, costs are becoming more and more important, but we want to make sure we’re as kind to the environment as we possibly can be.”

Counting the costs
As Simon said, costs are becoming more of an issue. And this is another area sourcing locally can help with. Although we are all being a little more careful with our spending, fine foods retailers are lucky in that this is one area many customers are still prepared to spend a bit more on.

“Generally, it’s not about cost. It’s definitely about quality, and there are so many superb quality farmers creating amazing British cheeses that can compete and win on a world stage,” says Catrin.

“Customers are prepared to pay a little extra for superb, locally made cheeses. At Valentine’s, for example, we had a heart-shaped mid-range French artisan cheese and a British-made heart-shaped cheese. The British cheese was twice the price and it sold out.”

It’s all about connections
It’s a well-known fact that when we feel a connection to something, to produce, we’re more likely to buy it. Building these connections is much easier when we build relationships, and our customers love that feeling of being directly involved.

“Our customers are becoming more and more knowledgeable about cheese,” says Simon. “They’re very aware of which cheese is produced by which dairy. They often know someone who works on the farm or saw the producer at a summer show. When they know the story and the people behind the cheese, they’re much more inclined to make a purchase.”

For Catrin, it’s about the stories we tell about these people and their produce. These connections are made by passing on information and by emphasising the fact that this is local, these people are local, just like us.

“We all love hearing how something is made, what the challenges are, why it has that name, who the farmers are. It makes it feel so much more personal and we feel as if we have a stake in helping them thrive. Customers love finding out about local makers. It’s a lovely thing to be able to tell friends at a dinner party, for example. Bristol is a brilliant place for supporting local independent businesses and local cheese really appeals to this ethos.”

There are many reasons why keeping it local is so convenient, so popular, so worthwhile. Amongst all these reasons, as Jessica notes, is the cheese itself.

“We don’t have to worry about distribution or damage in transit, and minimum orders prevent food miles while being able to deliver consistently high-quality cheese. We can also restock easily if and when there is an uptake in sales.

“Working with local producers keeps our stock levels moving, preventing food waste. Though the cheese is so good, our staff tends to help if there is ever overstock!”

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