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IDDBA 2016 Show Coverage: Specialty Cheese


Cheese expert Max McCalman presented findings from research commissioned by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) in his presentation “Specialty Cheese: A Profit Powerhouse You Can’t Ignore,” at the Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar and Expo, which took place in Houston June 4-7.

Speaking from his experience as the first maitre fromager in a North American restaurant, where he created a successful cheese program, McCalman knows the value that cheese brings to menus and food offerings. He presented findings from WMMB research, conducted by Progressive Grocer’s sister company, Carbonview Research, to support his observations.

Cheese ranks as one of the top destinations in supermarkets, with 96 percent of respondents indicating it’s one of the most important departments in the store, trailing only produce and nearly on par with meat. Further, cheese selection is a major influence on how the store is perceived by shoppers.

For many shoppers, cheese is a major part of the shopping journey, with 84 percent of shoppers indicating they make their cheese purchases at their primary grocery store. But for the 16 percent who don't purchase cheese at their primary store, the consequences for the retailer are severe, as customers will take their cheese purchase – and likely entire basket purchase – elsewhere. One-third of shoppers indicate they’ll go somewhere else if they can’t find the cheese they’re looking for at their primary store.

McCalman reported that 2015 specialty cheese sales totaled $4.7 billion, which translates into $752 million in lost opportunity that the 16 percent of respondents who shop elsewhere represent.

Per capita cheese consumption is increasing – triple that of the 1970s – and specialty cheese is growing at an average of 4 percent per year, McCalman said.

Shoppers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable and demanding of quality cheeses. It's a point of differentiation for retailers, and one that can keep shoppers returning to the store. These discerning shoppers are looking for a variety of cheeses, with 70 percent of respondents indicating they would be more satisfied if their primary store offered a greater variety of premium cheeses.

A wider assortment of curated cheeses will keep core shoppers from making purchases elsewhere, and well-executed sampling programs and cross-merchandising with produce, baked goods and other products will help introduce customers to new options for more eating occasions.

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