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Before 2020, online cheese sales were a small part of the retail business at Sheridans Cheesemongers, but that all changed when the Covid-19 crisis hit. “Since the pandemic, it’s exploded and become a business in itself,” explains Kevin Sheridan, who is co-founder of the business along with his brother Seamus.
A growing desire for high-quality Irish farmhouse cheese caused business to boom online, in Sheridan’s shops and in the company’s wholesale arm, thanks to strong demand from independent fine food retailers. This led to an incredibly challenging, but equally rewarding year. “The amount of energy it’s taken – mental energy, physical energy, organisationally changing the whole structure – it’s been busy on all fronts. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of effort, and a lot of stress – but a lot of opportunities as well,” Kevin says.
Sheridans not only began selling more cheese online last year – the business’s range of meal kits, recipe ideas and gift boxes also became a huge hit, with much of the population being stuck at home over 2020.
“People are looking for solutions,” Kevin says. A scratch-cooking craze took off after the pandemic hit as many consumers had more time on their hands in lockdown. Supply chain issues in supermarkets also caused shoppers to reconsider their food choices, leading to increased demand for local options. “One of the positives of this horrible situation has been people cooking more at home, cooking with their families, and looking for local ingredients,” Kevin says. “It’s been very, very positive.”
While some customers are looking for fun and inventive at-home cooking experiences, others are searching for simple ways to create fantastic flavours for everyday meals at home – and Sheridans Cheesemongers’ recipe ideas and meal kits walk the line between the two.
The shop’s meal kit boxes range from simple fondue – which comes complete with Emmental and Le Gruyère AOP cheese as well as an optional bottle of Riesling – to pizza, arancini and pasta kits. With all of the necessary ingredients included and the recipe provided, the boxes take the hard work out of making a meal from scratch, leaving home chefs free to get cooking.
If food and drink trend reports for the year ahead are anything to go by, consumers are likely to continue seeking out high-quality ingredients for at home cooking, and Kevin expects Sheridans’ online sales to keep growing. “Overall, we’ve seen an increasing awareness of our own brand this year, and we’ve seen an increase in people’s engagement with foods, as well as their interest in locally produced food and cooking at home,” Kevin says. “All the things that the speciality foods community has been working on for a long time have accelerated.”
But even if these trends slow down when the Covid-19 pandemic one day fades away, Kevin believes that online shopping and the desire for simple solutions for flavourful meals with local provenance will be here to stay. “Even after this passes people have hopefully had a really good service and found a new way to buy, regardless of whether they can go to traditional shops,” Kevin says. “I would hope that we’ve found a new customer base and a new way of shopping that will continue on through the long term.”
1. Create a solution.
“People are cooking at home every day, and families are spending a lot of time at home, so we wanted to make simple, easy solutions.”
2. Keep it simple.
Aside from the ingredients included in your kit, Kevin says any additional accompaniments should be items that people are likely to have at home already.”
3. Don’t try to do too much.
“Try to hit as broad an audience as possible. Keep it general, and keep it accessible to as many people as you can.”