How to be a sustainable cheesemonger

07 February 2024, 07:43 AM
  • From simple switches to big changes and even community-wide efforts, making sustainable changes to cheese sourcing, materials and delivery options can put your shop on an eco-friendly path
How to be a sustainable cheesemonger

The environmental impact of the cheese industry cannot be ignored. From dairy farming right through to the counter, the cheesemaking is one of many sectors responsible for knock-on effects on carbon emissions, single-use plastics and food waste. While artisan makers and the cheesemongers that sell their products are already a step ahead of industrial agriculture and large supermarkets, there is always more that can be done to be kinder to the planet. 

Getting started

Whether you’re setting up a new business or want to start taking your shop down a more sustainable path, you need to begin somewhere. “Right from the set up and refurbishment of the shop, we’ve tried to consider sustainability in every element of the business,” explains Chris Hallam, owner of Chorlton Cheesemongers. From using natural materials that are easier to maintain and last longer than ‘traditional’ shop fittings to opting for efficient coolers and refrigerators, he says sustainability is at the heart of the business. “It runs throughout, from our energy supplier, cleaning products and how we work in the shop, right through to the cheeses we source and how we serve the customer.”

James Grant of No2 Pound Street has taken a similar approach in his shop, using electric vehicles to transport cheese and attend markets as well as ensuring cheese wrap is biodegradable and sending out deliveries in upcycled cardboard boxes and pre-used cool packs. He has also made sustainable switches behind-the-scenes because of rising energy costs. “Running our business with spiralling costs is challenging. To save money, we consolidated our cheese to two rather than three or four cool rooms for storage.”

Taking a holistic approach to sustainability in your shop may sound daunting, but if you’re not starting from scratch, making environmentally friendly changes can start with simple steps forward.

James suggests starting with easy, cheap fixes, like using sustainable food wrap and reusing packaging for new deliveries. 

“It doesn’t have to be big, difficult or costly,” adds Chris. “There could be a number of small, incremental changes you could easily make throughout all parts of your business.” For example, changing to a green energy supplier, swapping out plastic bags for recycled paper versions and trying to reduce wastage of food and materials are all ways to begin making in-roads on in-store sustainability.

Taking the next step

From here, retailers can go further by looking more closely at deliveries, suppliers and products used in their shop. When it comes to deliveries, James suggests transporting out of peak times and making sure your tyres are pumped up, and he is an advocate for using electric vehicles as well. “Electric is getting better. Explore interest-free arrangements and tax wins that can be gained,” he says.

Chorlton Cheesemongers also implemented a zero-carbon home delivery service for locals by pairing up with Chorlton Bike Deliveries. Delis and cheesemongers in other areas of the country may find that they too can take advantage of local, low-carbon delivery options.

Another way that Chris realised he could reduce transport emissions was by turning the shop into a ‘hub’ in its suppliers’ delivery network. “Two cheesemakers deliver to us, and at the same time they drop off goods for others in our supply network, reducing fuel usage and the number of journeys taken,” he explains. 

There are also ways to go further with reducing waste in your shop – beyond swapping out bags and using products like vegetable-based food wraps or cornstarch compostable deli pots on the counter. Why not try offering a deposit and return scheme for products in glass jars? By doing this and encouraging customers to bring their own bags and containers, Chris says you will also open up conversations about sustainability with customers, which is a great way to win loyalty. 

Speaking with customers can open doors to other reuse and recycling initiatives. “We offer as much of our surplus wooden, plastic and cardboard packaging to locals for reuse or upcycling,” Chris says. “It’s very popular with artists, crafters and allotmenteers!”

Sourcing sustainably

The dairy industry has a considerable impact on the environment, and not all cheeses are created equally. According to the WWF, dairy cows add “substantial” amounts of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, and in some areas they contribute to water pollution and soil degradation. 

But here in the UK, there are many traditional dairy farmers who are pushing the boundaries of sustainability and regenerative agriculture. “We have always championed local and British cheese, which has less carbon miles,” James says. 

Working with those who make it their mission to be as eco-friendly as possible can have an outsized impact. “We are cautious when buying produce for the deli and only choose sustainably produced and ethical goods,” James adds. “Our cheese is sourced only from farms and makers that practise the best animal husbandry and making practices.”

Chris advises searching for small producers who use low-impact, non-industrial farming methods or small artisan dairies who hand make their cheeses.

“Wherever possible, we look for single-source milk, either from the cheesemaker’s own herd or sourced from the smallest distance local to them. We consider how they maintain the grazing land, soil management, size of the herd and animal welfare,” Chris says. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but a commitment to working with the environment ethically and sustainably is key.”

Be open with customers

If sustainable changes start to add up, start a conversation with your customers about the measures you’re implementing, the impact they have on the environment, and why this is reflected in your prices. “We’ve found that customers are very happy to know that although things might cost them more, they’re sourced sustainably and ethically, selected with care and are of great quality,” Chris says. “It’s about bringing that honesty into the conversation and engaging with the customer. And occasionally, you might save money, too – offering out our packaging has dropped the weight and frequency of our commercial waste removal!”

Communicating the stories of your products with customers can also help spread the word about the impact of sustainable farming and shore up support for the industry more broadly. “We tell the story of each cheese to our customers to help spread the word of sustainably and ethical farming,” James says.

While many sustainability-minded changes are simple to implement, deciding to go eco-friendly takes commitment. But for the sake of creating a better planet, it’s worth it.

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