From the Editor
The Specialty Cheese Challenge/Opportunity
As Wal-Mart rolled its Supercenter concept across America, the smart advice has been for stores to become the anti-Wal-Mart — high service, more upscale product, more organic, more artisanal.
Few areas seem more appropriate for such a mission than specialty cheese, which is enjoying a boom at mass-market retailers. Yet the boom is calling into question the product offer and merchandising abilities of supermarkets of all types. We say we are going to offer broad arrays of specialty product, but large assortments pose unique challenges for procurement teams and enormous challenges to merchandisers. Are retailers up to the challenge? Can suppliers help more?
Intrinsic in this question, of course, is the notion that an opportunity exists for increasing sales through more appropriate product assortment and better merchandising.
Specialty product serves so many purposes that the same product can be sold in virtually unrelated markets. Many who will buy a bouquet at a supermarket wouldn’t think of getting flowers for a wedding or funeral there.
Specialty food also offers many distinct markets:
Then, within each market, we have three buyer types:
This holiday season, we had the opportunity to buy a fair assortment of specialty cheeses and found supermarkets of all types lacking. On a trip to Los Angeles, we were at a Bristol Farms, about as upscale as you get, and noted the mediocre quality and non-fresh nature of the products included in its pre-made gift baskets.
We asked to purchase our choice of upscale foods to make a super quality, super expensive basket; a floral staffer was brought out — her control of the shrink-wrap machine put her in charge. The floral manager told us she was too busy to do a basket then or anytime that day, but if we gave her a list of what we wanted, she would do it tomorrow.
We wanted the gift basket for a special party for a special friend, and we needed it that night. Since they wouldn’t help us, we spent our money elsewhere.
A large order of high-end specialty foods walked out the door because a high-end store wasn’t sensitive to serving the gift market and knowledgeable, expert consumers.
Where did we wind up buying most of our fresh foods, including specialty cheese, this holiday season? Costco. The assortment was excellent, the price was reasonable and the product offering included things like pre-set cheese plates with assorted specialty cheeses.
There was a lot of good stuff, in areas where we didn’t know much — for example, specialty packages with assortments of Spanish cheeses — and many pre-selected assortments packaged into simple yet sophisticated gifts.
Many deli departments are filled with fantastic offerings — 10 types of olives, 200 cheeses, prosciutto di Parma. Shame on us if we don’t put all this together so our consumers can see the value, expand their palates, meet their needs for gifts and entertainment and enjoy shopping rather than leaving our stores not knowing how to put it all together.
It may sound like a burden — can’t we just sell product? — but it really is the opportunity. Being the anti-Wal-Mart is as much a matter of thinking of — and delighting — the non-Wal-Mart shopper as carrying particular product.
Much of the industry could do worse than a New Year’s resolution in that direction. DB