Guest Columns

Cheese Marketing

Specialty cheese area plays key role in grocery store perceptions

Shannon Berry

Shannon Berry, marketing specialist for Wisconsin Cheese/Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, is a guest columnist for Cheese Market News®.

Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin recently conducted a survey with heavy specialty cheese buyers (HSCB) — categorized by those who spend more on cheese in general and allocate more of that spend to specialty cheese versus the average cheese consumer — to identify specialty cheese impact at retail. Respondents were asked about food stores in general, but also to rate their satisfaction with their primary grocery store (where they primarily go to purchase groceries). The survey results revealed that six in 10 HSCB believe that the specialty cheese case has “a major impact” on their overall perception of a store’s quality.

According to the survey, a good specialty cheese area can elevate the premium feeling of the entire store. Respondents agreed that the selection of specialty cheeses makes customers feel confident that they are shopping at the right store. The specialty cheese area also makes customers feel better about the store they are shopping in, and it supports the belief that other products at the store are of premium quality. The availability of knowledgeable staff in the specialty cheese area serves to elevate customers’ impressions of the store further.

This specialty area can potentially drive traffic, as most customers (77%) are willing to go out of their way to find a specialty cheese they want. In fact, one of the main reasons customers choose to shop at a store is for its selection and quality of specialty cheese. Some customers even make trips to a grocery or specialty store just to purchase specialty cheese; additionally, some noted that if a grocery store did not carry specialty cheese, they would not shop there.

With the overarching impact of specialty cheese at retail in mind, it is an important finding that shoppers felt somewhat underserved by certain aspects of their most recent in-store specialty cheese experience. The survey found that 34% were neutral or dissatisfied with the available information on the makers, and 37% felt a lack of application inspiration. Additionally, 36% felt their needs were not fully met on sampling opportunities. This is a key takeaway for retailers and brands alike, given that the survey also revealed that sampling is the leading factor in deciding to buy, with nearly one in three ranking it as the first or second most important factor in purchasing specialty cheese.

To address these concerns and enhance the specialty cheese experience, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin has explored perfect bites and pairings for a major sampling impact. The art of cheese pairing is all about finding flavors that are complementary to the cheese while providing contrast to the high levels of fat and protein. This also opens doors for cross-merchandising.

Actively sampling specialty cheese is a proven way to connect with the consumer. We know that taste perception is linked to memory and emotion. Specialty cheese counters that encourage consumer participation via cheese sampling are tapping into the immersive power of food nostalgia and creating new and surprising food memories. Pairing cheese with innovative and interesting combinations promotes multiple sales and repeat buyers.

All social media platforms foster food curiosity and experimentation. Having a dedicated specialty cheese counter with specialized cheesemongers ready for these savvy consumers is an advantage to any retail space. Developing an experience-based sales strategy that includes active sampling and pairing of specialty cheese will elevate consumer satisfaction and the retail brand.

In my work at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, I’ve explored more than 300 unique Wisconsin Cheese pairings with the intent to connect food fanatics to great flavors and even better food experiences. A few of my favorites include Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve paired with grilled asparagus and fresh lemon zest; Roelli Cheese Haus Dunbarton Blue with lobster and wasabi; and Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Mozzarella Ciliegine with a crisp rice treat and pistachio butter. I encourage mongers to intertwine exquisite cheeses with seasonal ingredients to enhance customers’ entertaining skills by transforming basic cheese plates into high art. If you want to see more of this work, visit www.wisconsin If you’d like to learn more about the research on specialty cheese perceptions at retail, please contact


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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