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The gifting season is upon us, and retailers are no doubt knee-deep in red ribbons, baskets and biodegradable glitter. Farm shops and food halls have a strong tradition of providing all manner of hampers and selection boxes for the Christmas season, but even with their classic charm these items saw a rise in popularity during the pandemic as consumers who weren’t able to meet up in person were keen to pass on a thoughtful gift – and what says ‘thinking of you’ better than a selection of carefully chosen local food and drink?
Whether or not families can meet up for their much-desired celebrations this year, cheesemongers can be sure that hampers will get the tills ringing this festive season.
Clare Jackson, co-owner of Suffolk’s Slate Cheese, tells Speciality Food that consumers can’t go wrong with an edible gift. “Food gifts such as cheese hampers are a brilliant gift for those tricky-to-buy-for names on your Christmas list. Delicious, perfect for sharing and then gone – no awkward re-gifting or trip to the charity shop needed!”
Fraser MacLellan, who runs The East London Cheese Board, adds that selection boxes take the stress out of gift giving when shoppers don’t know exactly what cheeses to buy. “We have several options based on types of cheese, e.g. strong and smelly, or by budget, country and more, so it makes it easy to find a good option.”
Throwing a few cheeses together into a box might sound like a great way to quickly win a couple of quid in your shop, but adding an extra dose of thought and care into your gift hampers will help boost sales even further. “It’s really important for a hamper to bring joy on opening the box,” Clare says. “Great presentation is vital to this initial impact.
“We also think it’s important to include a considered selection of cheeses and accompaniments to create a decadent cheeseboard,” Clare continues. “The cheeses should include a balance of milks, cheese styles and textures.” Indeed, the secret to a great cheese box is simply great cheese. “We put a lot of thought into our selections based on many factors that we learn from tasting the cheese and also purchases made throughout the year, so we know what most customers will like,” Fraser says. He also uses the feedback from customers about pairing suggestions to tweak the contents of his boxes.
But don’t stop there – include a note about your business, as well as everything customers should know about the cheeses inside. “We also like to include tasting notes and drink pairing suggestions to enhance the feasting experience,” Clare says.
Visitors to cheese shops are often on the lookout for local specialities – and the same will be true at Christmastime. As well as searching for a convenient gift, a hamper offers consumers the chance to show off a bit about their local area by gifting friends and family with local delicacies. “Our most popular gift is a selection of local East Anglian cheeses with crackers, which we hope brings back fond memories of summer holidays by the Suffolk seaside,” Clare says.
Cheesemongers can get creative with their hampers, choosing themes by cheese or tapping into characteristics of the recipient. However, try not to get too carried away, and focus on themes you know your customers will love. “We try not to overwhelm,” Fraser says. “Keeping the names simple like Christmas Classics, Best of British, Cheese Lovers Hamper, makes it clear what type of selection it is, so it’s easy to buy as a gift.”
And don’t forget about cheese-related kit, like boards and knives, to offer alongside your range of gifting cheeses. “Covert storage of fresh cheese between delivery and Christmas morning can be a challenge so we offer an ambient range of cheese-related gifts that can be wrapped and tucked under the tree,” Clare says. “With all of these we offer the option of adding a Slate gift voucher so the recipient can enjoy some New Year cheese shopping at their leisure.”
Once your ideas are complete, make up a few gift-wrap hampers to display in your shop – or brave the social media influencers. “In preparation for the festive season, we’ve reached out to a group of local bloggers and foodie friends of Slate to share with them a box of cheese,” Clare says. “We are hoping they’ll love the cheese and share it in their Christmas gift guides.” After all, cheese gifts are a fantastic way to spread the love of artisan cheese far and wide.
If cheese boxes are a success in your shop, why not build on the theme by offering a monthly subscription box? “We think a foodie subscription box is a fabulous Christmas gift idea,” Clare says. “We offer three- and six-month gift membership of our Slate Cheese Club, with the first box arriving in early January. What better way to top up the fridge after the Christmas feasting is over and kick off 2022 than a delicious monthly dive into the world of artisan cheese?”