Another huge opportunity in cheese is provenance. This month Pilgrims Choice launched a new Territorials range, which includes favourites Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and Wensleydale.

Jenkins says that the company wants to be known as a cheese brand and not just a ‘cheddar brand’. “The territorials market is in decline overall, but it’s such a large category second largest to cheddar and really needs a brand to signpost it and induce a bit more trial. It’s an opportunity for us to step in and reverse the decline.”

She says that once the new cheeses are established in the market, the company will look at convenience and formats. The company also promises several more brand extensions onto the market in the coming months.

Retailer’s view

“Cheese really sells quite well and we stock about 20 different lines, from mild right through to vintage cheddar. We have small blocks and medium size blocks, but tend to stay away from the mega blocks. Customers buy our bread rolls and then buy the cheese to go in them. Medium strength cheddar is the best-seller. We stock slices, shredded and blocks, but the blocks sell most. I think people are looking at value for money now, which the blocks give. We also stock brie, which sells well. Our cheese supplies come from Londis at the moment.” 
Manoj Patel, Manny’s, Long Ditton, Surrey

Butter-maker Kerrygold has recognised the importance of provenance with the launch of its Irish Cheese into the cheddar market a move which it sees as a natural evolution from its butter range. Marketing director Alastair Jackson says: “A trend has evolved where consumers are increasingly influenced by a food’s provenance. The named ‘Irish’ UK cheddar market grew in value by 2% last year, therefore we saw this as a perfect opportunity to introduce cheese into our product portfolio.”

Wyke Farms managing director Richard Clothier points out that customers are also looking for local. “The underlying trend is still towards local provenance and we need to brace ourselves for that.”

Camille Mancelle, UK key accounts manager for Isigny Sainte-Mere, says that provenance isn’t only important in home-grown cheeses. “Even five years ago you didn’t find speciality cheeses that you do now. Now most stores have French, Italian, even Spanish in their range.”

He says that while consumers may be cutting back on eating out, they often still want to recreate the restaurant experience at home with a cheeseboard at the end of a meal.

And as consumers widen their repertoire, they often want a little bit of everything making size important: “We are seeing cheese sizes and case sizes decreasing as consumers look to trial a wider selection of different cheese styles,” says Mancelle. “This is why we are seeing strong demand for the small Isigny Camembert, half Pont L’Evêque and small slices of Mimolette.”

Dairy Crest’s Mehegan agrees: “Consumers have started becoming more adventurous. This trade up to new and exciting or more premium variants is important for category growth and is a key trend for Cathedral City. We introduced trial size packs to support this and to introduce the consumer to the wider portfolio.”

But, says Clothier, the key to sales in small stores is getting the core block range right: “Grated and sliced are space hungry and while we do recloseable grated, people still want block. If the chiller is big have it, but only once you’ve ticked off the cheddars and territorials.”

Clothier also thinks there is a big opportunity for sizing to go up as well as down: “Interestingly we’ve seen retail sizes increase, especially in multiples with people buying up by 100g. We’ve been saying to convenience to put up their offer by 100g to 400g.”

He also points to the recession as being an opportunity for c-stores on two counts: “We can see a huge polarity in consumption based on if you still have a job, the interest on your mortgage is low and you’re still spending, and whether you have lost your job. There is no middle ground. It’s very difficult for multiples to cover both bases, but very easy for convenience stores to ride both horses and offer value for money and really nice added value.”

And cheese could also benefit from the food price hikes about to hit the shelves. “Prices are going to increase throughout the spring and beyond, but one of the key drivers is grain where prices have gone from £65 a tonne to £200, which is suddenly going to make pork and chicken a lot more expensive. It doesn’t impact dairy farming as much, so in comparison cheese will look relatively good value.” 

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