Cheese sales have been affected by inflation as much as any other commodity. Already high-priced for the average consumer, fine cheese is finding itself pushed into the luxury market. There are consumer strategies that can reduce the risk of trying the unknown, and there are methods to keep prices more in line with expectations for a food that can be bought frequently. Redefining marketing and merchandising are keys to future success.
One of my first memories of Paris is the cheese shops I visited. I felt completely comfortable that any cheese chosen would be excellent. It was never a matter of what cheese was better; it was a matter of finding the cheeses that appealed to me. Given the current inflationary environment, it would behoove retailers to embrace some of the merchandising techniques used by our European counterparts.
New to me were many small format cheeses. Part of the reason may have been that small format cheeses were difficult to export due to the short shelf life. Another reason may have been that cheese shops in the U.S. were a rarity, and the typical high-end retailers liked the “pile it high and let it fly” philosophy of merchandising. Today, high-quality cheese shops are more common, and high-volume retailers are developing grand cheese departments within their walls. Programs that allow for flying specialties with short shelf lives into the U.S. are also readily available. The increase in cost more than makes up for the better quality, availability and extended shelf life.
I am seeing a new embrace of smaller cheeses from both American and European cheesemakers. In some cases, the cheeses are 1 to 2 ounces and beautifully packaged. I was very impressed by the new line of specialties from Caseificio dell’ Alto Langa, a cheese producer from the Piedmont area of Italy. Beautifully packaged, these cheeses would make a perfect housewarming present. Rodolphe Le Meunier of France, well known for his vast knowledge of cheesemaking and affinage, is exporting exquisite small cheeses. American cheesemakers are also producing smaller versions. BelGioioso’s line of small cheeses is an excellent addition to snacking cheeses, but also perfect for cheese plates. Likewise, LaClare Family Creamery is making its original goat cheese in small 1-ounce rounds. These are not the only companies making smaller cheeses, but they are leading the way. By treating fine cheese in a more respectful fashion and offering cheeses that are very fresh, retailers will keep customers coming back more often and more frequently.