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Triple. Yes, three times as much. That’s the staggering uptick bosses at Friday Street Farm Shop saw when they updated their deli section, adding a dedicated cheese room two years ago.
The team spent a long time thinking about the best way to present their cheeses – considering size, type and colour, but also strength and regionality, all of which played a part in their final position in the temperature-controlled, glass-fronted room.
“We weren’t expecting this,” says Toby Edwards, deli and cheese room manager. “We started with 20 to 30 cheeses because we didn’t think we’d fit much more in. But now we average 50 to 60.”
Toby says customers appreciate the visual appeal of the cheese room, and the fact it’s a more personal experience. “They can actually see the whole cheese, rather than bits and pieces wrapped in clingfilm. That alone helped increase our sales. We’re now getting through around 10, 3kg Baron Bigods a week, and whole Stiltons over a couple of weeks. That’s all down to the presentation. Also, because we display whole cheeses, people know they can come in a get a little bit, but they’re also not afraid to ask for a 5lb piece.”
Crucially, because of the controlled conditions of the cheese, it can be left unwrapped. “When it’s in clingfilm, I’ve found customers can be too polite to ask us to cut into a cheese. They’re too afraid. Keeping it unwrapped engages them a lot more with it.”
Cheeses are arranged in the room in order of strength, so staff can take each customer on a journey. “Often they’ll ask what my favourite is, and I steer it back to what they like. Do they prefer something strong, something with caramel flavours, something that will take the roof of their mouth off.”
Arranging the sales space by strength, from soft whites, to Cheddars, blues, and punchy truffled brie, means customers can work their way through with a member of the deli team, trying along the way, without muddying their palate.
Toby says it’s also important to dedicate a section of your counter or cheese room to local producers, so local people, and visitors to the area, are easily signposted towards them. “We absolutely champion local here. We pile them nice and high so they catch the eye as customers come in. Seeing local first and foremost gets people talking.” Since changing up the display and giving regional cheese its own spot, Toby says sales have gone “through the roof”.
Another top tip? “Don’t be afraid to move things around in the counter, rather than leaving it stuck in a corner. That keeps the counter looking fresh, and regulars might see something new they want to try that they haven’t noticed before.”
Caroline Blaydon of Wildgoose Fine Foods says there’s is a real art to striking the right balance between having an alluring display, or something that appears disorganised and confusing.
“With a good turnover of cheese, you can afford to have large, attractive, whole rounds at the rear of counters – nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg is a good example – with smaller whole cheeses and cut cheeses towards the front. If a cutting cheese is boxed, for example 1kg and 2kg Baron Bigods, I like to present the cheese on top of the box.”
Caroline advocates having attractively shaped, pre-cut cheeses on top of, or nearby whole or larger pieces of cutting cheese to demonstrate to customers what 100g or 200g might look like. “They’re often reluctant to ask the question, and so are more likely to buy a ready-cut piece, particularly if they are of the older generation and usually deal in pounds and ounces rather than grams!”
When she first opened her store, Caroline says she experimented with many ways of grouping cheese (by country, region etc.) asking regular customers for feedback. “Almost all preferred the simple approach of grouping softs, blues and hards. I intersperse these with interesting accompaniments, which I believe prevents customers from being ‘snow-blinded’ by an array of similarly coloured cheeses. And, of course, it’s an opportunity to upsell!”
Favourites include mini date and walnut cakes, tubs of membrillo paste, and jars of figs in Pedro Ximenez sherry.
Like Toby, Caroline rotates the position of her cheeses often to keep the display from appearing stale, and tries to incorporate at least two or three new varieties each week. “Every morning each cheese is trimmed as necessary and rewrapped to ensure it is presented as well as possible.
“For labelling, I use small blackboard cards, which display the name of the cheese, its country or county of origin, whether it’s pasteurised, whether it’s vegetarian, and the price per 100g. I believe presenting any further information is confusing and prevents the opportunity for customers to ask questions and hence strike up a conversation about the cheese.”
Being bountiful has proved a good sales tool for Walsingham Farms Shop says general manager Sam Bagge. “The best thing we do is we have quite a selection – probably 30 to 35 with our grab-and-go cheeses. We focus predominantly on local, mixing in cheese from other parts of the UK, and with a few French, Italian and Swiss cheeses. When we supplement these it’s with things that are a bit different that you can’t get in the supermarket, like Alp Blossom.”
Within the display Sam ensures ‘local’ is clearly defined, especially as the shop is in a key area for tourism. Other than this, the counter is arranged ‘like a cheeseboard’ which he says “helps explain things better.”
“We have our blues, then our Cheddars, hard cheese, soft cheese, medium soft in sections. It makes it easier for customers to identify what they need. Then, if someone says ‘oh, I want a soft cheese’ we can explain them all in that one area of the counter.”
Like Friday Street, Walsingham Farms Shop also displays cheese by strength, giving plenty of testers for customers, taking them from mild to powerful, so they can draw comparisons and work out what they really like.
Cheese is ‘glass wrapped’ for a smooth, clean appearance, with a ‘working piece’ on top remaining unwrapped for tasters. “Having a working piece minimising cheese drying out, but if we need to we will ‘face up’ a cheese, taking off the top layer so it’s always fresh and looks appealing – that’s quite key if something is slowing down on sales.”
To keep it in peak condition, the team ensure the holding temperature is correct regularly, and they only buy what they need. “We don’t hold onto stock. We’re lucky enough to get deliveries several times a week, or to pick up cheese locally whenever we want.”