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Indies are putting British cheese on the map in 2022, by championing their local artisanal producers and cashing in on increased demand for domestic food.
The local appeal
When it comes to stocking British cheeses, indies should remember that local produce carries a certain appeal. As Jen Grimstone-Jones, co-owner of Cheese Etc, The Pangbourne Cheese Shop, explains, “People want to support local first and then British, which is just so fantastic. We saw this trend before Brexit and it has just continued at pace since.”
This focus on localism is also felt by Oli Smith, owner of The Bristol Cheesemonger, who tells Speciality Food, “Two of the most frequently asked questions in our shop are: ‘What are your most local cheeses?’ and ‘What do you have that I can’t buy anywhere else?’.
“Our biggest selling cheeses are therefore the ones where we have the closest relationship with the producers; our own hand-selected Westcombe Cheddar, our Sparkenhoe Blue, (for example) as well as those really small production cheeses that are made within 45 minutes or so of the shop: Baronet, The Wandering Ewe and so on.”
Stocking hyper-local cheeses also gives indies the advantage over the multiples. As Owen Davies, owner of Ty Caws, explains, “British cheese can bring so much interest into any independent retailer and there are many British cheeses unavailable within the large retail market.”
Jen adds, “Our local cheeses are always extremely popular and we sell a lot of them. I always tell our customers that if they are travelling elsewhere in the UK (and abroad) they should always seek out the local options as they might not get the chance to taste them elsewhere.
“Independent shops like ours are perfect outlets for small-scale British producers. A lot of cheesemakers can’t make the quantity of cheese that the large supermarkets need to stock their shops and so the indies come into their own. We can also quickly adapt to the wants and needs of our customers, which larger chains can’t easily do.”
Oli recommends going all in on the localism angle when it comes to upselling British cheese. “Knowing the product and the producer really is so good for sales as well as for supporting British cheese.
“I would encourage all delis to find a few things that are made nearby and buy them directly from the producer. Be persistent in approaching them and go and visit them – a lot of producers are very happy supplying directly to a local and enthusiastic shop! Get those cheeses front and centre on your displays, taste them out, talk to the customers about the producers.
“Because you’re buying directly, you’ll sell more of the cheese and make better margin on it than you would otherwise. Find small, brilliant producers and support the diversity and growth of British cheeses.”
This is something Jen is also passionate about. She explains, “Know your cheese. Our customers want to know the stories behind the cheeses, they love the fact that we often source direct from the cheesemakers so we know the journey the cheese has taken from producer to our counter.”
Knowing your cheese also comes with the benefit of being able to host quality tastings that will best showcase the products in your counter. According to Owen, “Sampling does help! It creates interest and is a talking point – it draws attention to the cheese selection and we’ve found that since introducing it post-pandemic, it’s helped boost sales. Clear labelling and staff training on the key characteristics and stories of each cheese helps with consumer confidence and in turn, spending.”
Jen concludes, “Let customers taste the cheese and it will sell itself, but don’t forget to make your display look enticing. After all, people visit an independent cheese shop to buy cheese so they’re already looking to buy from you!”