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Before Covid, offering samples was a fundamental part of running a cheese counter. “Customers really do appreciate the opportunity to taste different cheeses and learn more about their origins and flavours from an expert,” says Candice Fonseca, proprietor at Delifonseca. This one-to-one service was a key sales tool which nudged customers out of their comfort zones and helped them pair up cheeses with tasty accompaniments – all leading to higher sales for cheesemongers.
When Covid-19 put an end to sampling, those manning the counter had to get creative – and verbose. “We were not offering samples for quite a while, relying instead on our amazing employees’ ability to describe the cheeses perfectly,” says Izaak Edge, manager of The CheeseWorks in Cheltenham. Although easing Covid restrictions mean many shops have resumed sampling, there will be a number of customers who prefer to keep their masks firmly in place. To cater to these customers, cheesemongers can up the ante with their in-store displays.
According to Candice, the first step is to ensure your counter looks mouth-wateringly good. “It’s essential that the cheese counter is bountiful, and we favour a display with larger chunks of cheese rather than large quantities of smaller pieces. Visually, this makes a real impact and makes the overall counter look full and attractive.” Izaak agrees that a well-stocked counter has the power to wow customers. “We make the most of our displays by having a stacked cheese counter be the first thing that a potential customer sees as soon as they walk into the shop. Once they’ve taken this amazing sight in, they start to look around the rest of the shop, finding rows upon rows of chutney, alcohol, fresh bread and other accompaniments.”
Making products look as attractive and as interesting as possible is a good start to pique the interest of customers. Next, ensure cheeses are correctly labelled with all of the information a customer might want to know. With the busy Christmas season on the way, a detailed display can help answer customers’ questions when staff are busy taking orders and cutting cheeses. “Signage is a big part of our cheese displays,” Candice says, “and we believe in sharing as much information as possible to make the experience as simple for the customer as it can be. We share the country of origin, and for UK cheeses we specify the area. We also clarify whether it’s pasteurised or unpasteurised and whether the cheese is suitable for vegetarians. We’ve found that many of our vegetarian customers are appreciative of this clear guidance, and we’ve certainly seen an increase in demand for cheese that doesn’t include any animal produce.”
Izaak also makes sure his cheeses are well labelled with all of the necessary information. “The same goes for any of the crackers or chutneys we sell, too – though the makers help us out greatly with these by providing all the information generally needed on the items themselves,” he says.
Choosing a display set-up is another crucial step for cheesemongers. Whether you have an entire shop to fill or just a single deli counter, positioning items smartly can do much of the heavy lifting of upselling. For instance, try providing a display with your favourite cheeseboard selection, creating a section packed with all your local products or setting a few of your bestselling chutneys and preserves next to the cheeses they pair best with.
“Product positioning is extremely important in our shop,” says Izaak. “There are several key positions in the shop where we make sure one of our bestsellers is situated, or something that happens to be a little special or particularly good at the time of year. When a customer comes in, they’ll instantly be drawn to it, as it is in their direct line of sight,” he continues. “When working in such a specific field as this with products that are slightly off the beaten track, we find it pays to make it as visually interesting as possible.”
While staging bestsellers front and centre seems like an obvious move, Candice prefers to shout about the more obscure cheeses. “We rotate our cheeses on a regular basis, giving our lesser-known products an opportunity to take centre stage. Our big sellers will always do well so we tend to focus on showcasing the lesser known, more unusual types of cheese that may not be so widely available.” Smaller cheesemongers and delis may not have as much room to play with, so Candice recommends prioritising displays that house the bigger blocks of cheese and choosing standout items that will get shoppers talking. “Customers will always ask for the more affordable, everyday cheeses like Cheddar, Mozzarella and Parmesan so do have these stocked, but regulars will enjoy a rotation of cheeses giving them a new option on every visit.” By combining these display tips with a fantastic knowledge of cheese flavour and provenance, sample-shy customers will be coming back for more.