Baking queen Mary Berry caused controversy last month when she said she served cheese before pudding at her dinner parties. If you thought this momentous revelation has little to do with your customers, think again. Convenience retailers across the land are cashing in on cheese, particularly more unusual varieties, thanks in part to the growth in entertaining at home.

Indeed, when Convenience Store contacted North Wales Spar retailer Conrad Davies for a comment about cheese, he was taking delivery of several exotic varieties including apricot & stilton and Spanish manchego. In fact, he stocks 65 different cheeses in his Pwhelli store, everything from Dairylea to mozzarella balls.

“Our range goes from Cathedral City with 100% extra-free, all the way to premium cheeses on the deli. We go for local and Welsh lines and we always have a selection of guest cheeses on the deli.

Appealing to children

Big brands invest in winning over mums and kids

Cheese suppliers are really going to town in a bid to engage with younger consumers.

Cheestrings, the UK’s most frequently purchased kids’ cheese snack brand (Kantar Worldpanel), has a new on-pack promotion which gives children a range of free in-pack ‘Bonkersly Brave’ game cards which can be collected and traded.

The activity is supported by a new ad campaign which highlights the brand’s online Brave Bones Club. Appearing across TV, cinema and video on demand, the ads encourage kids to get active and carry out ‘Brave tasks’.

There’s a message to mums, too, that Cheestrings is ‘Real Cheese Made Fun’, with each Cheestring containing a 180ml glass of milk.

Cheestrings marketing manager Alison Lees says: “With the rising trend for game card collection, we are confident that the on-pack promotion will drive consumer engagement with our core audience and inspire active play. We encourage retailers to stock Cheestrings prominently in the chiller to maximise sales and drive growth within the category.”

Meanwhile, Dairy Crest is building on the success of Cathedral City Chedds Nibbles with Nibbles Extra Cheesy, featuring mini cubes of 100% natural mature Cheddar. The launch coincides with a packaging refresh across the range, which includes jokes, facts and brain teasers.

And Mini Babybel is currently available in special limited-edition spring packaging which features chicks, bunnies, ducklings, lambs, ladybirds and the sun. The new cellophane wrappers are running across Mini Babybel original and light six-packs and 12-packs as well as Mini Babybel Cheddar six-packs.

“I think all the cookery shows on TV have definitely helped sales, as well as the trend for staying in. People these days know what they like. For example, they know they need Spanish manchego to go with their tapas.”

Conrad says holding tastings is essential for helping cheese sales: “We had three new Cheddars in from a farm shop recently and if people don’t get to try them they’ll think ‘oh, it’s just another Cheddar’. They need to try them to taste the difference.”

He says sampling is easy and cheese is usually paired with spelt biscuits or Carrs crackers, and there’s chutney to go with it if shoppers want.

“Suppliers help us by sending in samples so we set up a table and offer three or four cheeses at a time,” he explains.

Sampling is important at Budgens of Harleston in Norfolk, too, where deli manager Lynne Aldred does it at key times such as around Mother’s Day and Easter.

“We usually serve it plain so people get the complete taste of the cheese,” she says, “but occasionally if it’s a blue or a softer cheese, we’ll put it on a biscuit.”

Lynne says her customers are looking for price and quality, but those prices can be high end. “Some of our cheeses are quite pricey, but people do buy them. They are adventurous and will try them. Often they’ll come in looking for a particular cheese for their cheese board, or we can advise them.”

Snowdonian Black Bomber, a quality waxed Cheddar, is a good seller, and so is Barber’s Reserve vintage Cheddar from Somerset. Then there’s smoked Dorset red - Lynne says that her customers either love it or hate it as it has quite a ‘kippery’ taste.

Budgens of Harleston devotes 1m of its deli to cheese, plus half a metre in a ‘spider’ fridge opposite, where cheese from the deli has been cut, wrapped and dated. Of course, this Budgens stocks all the standard cheeses and they are big sellers, but Lynne says many of her deli customers wouldn’t touch a factory-processed cheese and some don’t want to queue at a deli.

“Some people don’t want to stand in a queue at the deli because they’re in a hurry,” explains Lynne. “This is where the spider fridge comes in, but if we see anyone browsing the spider fridge we will come out from the deli and see if they need any help.”

She firmly believes that it’s key staff are well informed about the section if you selling special types of cheese. “We deal with Budgens, of course, but we also deal directly with cheese wholesaler Rowcliffe - which is very knowledgeable. We always work with it to offer a feature cheese.”

Rowcliffe is a supplier to Budgens and together the two companies have produced a cheese guide, which Lynne thinks is brilliant. “It’s the best document Budgens has ever produced as it includes everything about the cheese, from its heritage to how to store it,” she says.

And storage is important. Lynne and her team spend a lot of time advising customers about whether their cheese should be foil-wrapped, or put in greaseproof paper when they get it home. “Ours is often in plastic film so they can see what’s inside, but once they get it home it needs to be repackaged.” And it’s that kind of knowledge that brings shoppers back time and again to Lynne’s counter.

Who’s eating what?

Cheddar is by far the most popular cheese in the UK - accounting for more than half of value and volume sales

Cheese usage is highest among 35- to 54-year- olds and lowest among under-25s

Usage of Continental-style hard and soft cheese as well as blue cheese rises with income, reflecting these styles’ higher price points

Cream/soft cheese is most popular with women, under-35s and households with children

A strong/mature flavour is the most important factor when buying cheese - ranking higher than special offers.

Meanwhile, Londis retailer Binny Amin from Kent says he would like to see more mainstream suppliers getting involved in store sampling and food pairing. “We have held many sampling events and seen some great results; it would be good to do more.”

He adds: “We always look at cheese for in-store promotions - in the summer and just before the kids go back to school - as we find these help us retain customer loyalty.”

Binny says the only disappointment with the cheese market is that there is little NPD at the moment coming from the major producers. “When there is, we’ve seen an uplift in sales. For example, Cathedral City Minis have been popular with mums and kids.”

He has about 30 different national lines and an additional 20 from local suppliers.

“Cheese sales are always growing - as we have so many varieties we have become the place to come to for some extra variety and quality. Own brand makes up most of our sales, but having local variants makes it easy to upsell and create a more premium offering.”

Retailers’ comments that there is a growing interest in varieties is backed up by Mintel research which found that almost half of cheese consumers are interested in trying different types.

And Bel UK is one company that’s keen to help smaller retailers expand their cheese repertoire. Steve Gregory, head of category management at the company, says it will do this by assessing what will work for retailers and their customer base. “For example, an independent retailer who is currently stocking only Cheddar may discover that adding in a line of Boursin around key occasions such as Easter and Christmas can really pay off - and they may even then consider making that cheese a permanent addition to their fixture, if customers demand it. The same can be said for Mini Babybel around key back-to-school periods.”

Room for growth

Cheese is a £2.69bn category, which has enjoyed 18% growth over the past five years (Kantar Worldpanel). Some 98.6% of UK households buy cheese, on average purchasing three times a month and spending more than £100 a year in the cheese aisle (Mintel). But with UK consumption lagging significantly behind the European average, at 11kg per capita versus 18kg, there is still potential for growth.

Last year Bel unveiled a £500m-plus growth opportunity in the UK cheese category, following a research project that identified shoppers’ lack of emotional connection with the cheese aisle as the fixture’s biggest barrier to growth.

Its answer to unlocking those millions of pounds-worth of sales is to make the category more appealing to consumers by meeting their needs; inspire shoppers to add to their cheese repertoire; and ensure the fixture is easy to navigate.

Gregory adds that with an over-dependence on promotions in block cheeses, the everyday cheese category is struggling to generate additional sales and create that spark of interest for the consumer.

“Innovation and correct ranging are crucial to the success of cheese. This means offering variety in flavours and formats, correctly merchandised in stores of all different sizes and with excellent availability.”

And it seems that many c-store retailers have already got that message.


City slicker

Cathedral City is now available in easy-tear packaging with a press-to-close seal to keep the cheese fresh once opened. The move will be supported by a £7m marketing spend including TV support in 2014.

Dairylea offers 100 prizes a day

Dairylea is running a promotion in which 100 winners will win a musical cow of their choice every day. Running until May, the instant-win activity is supported by radio, digital and social media activity.

Pilgrims Choice made for cooking

Adams Foods has created Pilgrims Choice Crumbles. The 4mm diced cubes of Cheddar are designed to melt more evenly on top of savoury dishes than standard cheese. There are three varieties: mature; mature with black pepper; and extra mature with breadcrumbs & herbs. The introduction is backed by sampling and PR activity.

Cathedral City in spreadable format

New to the spreadable category is Cathedral City spreadable, created in response to consumer demand for an authentic-tasting Cheddar spread suitable for the whole family. Marketing manager Laura Sheard adds: “Its strong taste and quality credentials have the potential to attract new shoppers to the category, driving growth.” Rrp is £1.71 for a 
125g tub.

Wyke is a winner

Wyke Farms, the UK’s largest farmhouse cheesemaker, hopes to grow its 5% share of the Cheddar market with a multi-media campaign centring on the hero of the Wyke Farms’ story - the cow. Expect to see Wyke cows on TV in September and October.