Kroger is the nation’s largest supermarket chain and second largest grocer – behind Wal-Mart. In 2008, it entered into an agreement with Murray’s Cheese Shop, and kiosks that focused on marketing specialty cheese under the Murray’s banner now appear in more than 350 stores.
Recently, Kroger has acquired the flagship store in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village from owner Rob Kaufelt for more than $20 million, plus it bought the whole company for an undisclosed amount. Kaufelt comes from a multi-generational grocery family, and in the early 1990s he saw the possibilities in specialty cheese and purchased Murray’s Cheese shop.
Crain’s New York Business recently ran an article explaining how Rob Kaufelt transformed Murray’s into “the Apple Store of Fromage,” according to food consultant Burt Flickenger.
The article quoted a well known industry expert:
“Murray’s is The Beatles of cheese. And that makes Rob the Brian Epstein,” said Steven Jenkins, citing the epic British band’s manager. “He’s not the rock ‘n’ roll celebrity. He’s the businessman. He has the impresario gene.” Jenkins should know. He was a longtime cheesemonger at Fairway who won a James Beard Award for Cheese Primer, a seminal book in the field. When Kaufelt took over Murray’s in 1993, he hired Jenkins as a consultant to get up to speed.
Jenkins compared the transformation of Murray’s under Kaufelt to the rebranding of the Patagonian toothfish as Chilean sea bass. “Remember Barneys?” Jenkins said. “Barneys used to sell discount suits. Then the son took over and decided to class up the place. That’s what Rob has done.”
The acquisition plays to two opposite ends of every retailer’s current dilemmas: on the one hand, Murray’s has a substantial Internet business, and this positioning of specialty products perfectly positions Kroger to grow its online sales. At the same time, the authenticity, reputation and expertise of Murray’s help Kroger differentiate its own offerings.
The Crain’s article pointed to another big impact of the Kroger/Murray’s connection: “Supermarkets have gotten complacent,” said Greg Blais, cheesemonger at Eataly and host of the Cutting the Curd podcast. “Murray’s comes in and forces everyone to step up their game.”
So whether you buy online, at a Murray’s kiosk or at another store, the integration of a specialty cheese store, such as Murray’s, into a mainstream grocer, such as Kroger, lays the way for wider offerings sold by more knowledgeable people. That is a win. CC