27 April 2023, 13:51 PM
  • Natasha Spencer-Joliffe explores the importance of keeping quality as king despite challenges in the artisan cheese sector
How to sell fine cheese in a challenging landscape

From luxurious cheeseboards to tasty picnic favourites and premium sandwiches, cheese remains a sought-after symbol of occasion and permissible indulgence. With varieties expanding, indie cheese retailers seek to showcase a broad selection of the finest cheeses from around the world.

Cost-of-living crisis affects cheese choice
In a changing consumer landscape, typified by the cost-of-living crisis, shoppers are looking for more from their cheese – and their indie retailer – to get the most from their money. Today, the cost-of-living crisis is a key factor influencing consumers’ decision-making when selecting cheese.

The income squeeze will take its toll on cheese, with 42% of people who eat and buy cheese saying money concerns would make them spend less, market intelligence company Mintel‘s 2022 research reveals. Shopper behaviour in 2022 led to less cheese on the dining table in France, with consumers opting for simpler menus, Kantar research found.

Given the current cost of living issues, ‘premium value for money’ is a very important factor for indie cheese retailers. “Together with the popular view that own-label cheese is just as good quality as branded, this puts the leading brands under pressure to prove their value,” says a Mintel spokesperson.

Indie retailers have to, therefore, work hard to deliver a premium offering and all-round experience that competes with own-brand, mass-market cheese in supermarkets. Specialist knowledge, dedicated customer service and a fine selection of premium international cheeses offer indie retailers key differentiating factors from supermarkets, providing a competitive advantage.

Despite the crisis fiercely shaping consumer spending habits, indie retailers can still attract shoppers and appeal to their shifting decision-making behaviour by piquing their interest with an expansive collection of fine-tasting cheeses that provide a sensorial experience at a good value.

Indie cheese retailers that house unique and sought-after varieties can tap into cheese consumers’ desire for tastes, note combinations and textures that stand out from what they have previously sampled and bought. 

Maximise flavour to pack a sales punch
Flavour is a significant differentiator in cheese and a vital way for indie retailers to communicate taste and convey their sensorial experience. The Mintel spokesperson adds that luxury remains a crucial message to explore “to leverage the oft-seen ‘trading up while trading down’ mindset.

“A focus on how their flavour packs a punch is needed for cheese brands to justify their higher prices, given the widespread view that own-brand matches them on quality.”

Luxuriating the cheese experience
Creating a connection between flavour and meal occasions can propel the popularity of indie retailers’ specialist cheeses. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and governmental restrictions, the UK saw an additional 1.2 billion in-home cheese occasions in 2020 compared to 2019, signalling a year-on-year rise of 20%, insights from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) reveal.

“Positioning their cheese as elevating the whole meal through upgrading a small element of it would tap into the popular view that flavourful cheese helps make meals more interesting,” says a Mintel spokesperson. Research from Mintel reveals that 69% of people hold this view, including 76% who say money concerns would make them spend less on cheese.