By Edward Hancock, Founder, The Cheese Geek
As we come to celebrate National Cheese Day, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the future of the cheese industry. Even though the UK cheese market is worth £2.6bn* it’s incredibly ripe for disruption, and I’m a strong believer that the future of cheese lies firmly online, supported by tech, and driven by a subscription model. But as always, every opportunity for disruption comes with its fair share of challenges.
Let’s start with the most basic one – the only way to ensure that the best artisan cheese can travel from the farm to the customer for a reasonable price, is to be operating at scale. Margins in cheese are not as attractive as many other industries, so you have to think big. The only way to do this is through becoming accessible to the whole of the UK market, and expanding your online presence is a key way of achieving this.
Previously this would not have been viable because the technology used to ensure that the cheese is delivered to customers in perfect condition was unavailable. Now we have advanced chilling solutions which, when paired with insulation can pave way for such capabilities. It’s incredible to think that we were the very first company to insulate the cheese sent to retail customers.
More holistically there are several challenges for traditional cheese-mongers, some worth mentioning are:
- A) Wanting to give customers a huge choice of cheese
- B) Needing to have that cheese on display
- C) Shelf life
- D) Condition of cheese once it has been cut/broken into
As a result, much of the cheese that is distributed in high street cheese-mongers is in sub-perfect (to sometimes poor) condition. With the high levels of wastage that they suffer, they are unable to dedicate sufficient time and care into the storage of the cheese sold. This is why I started The Cheese Geek.
I am able to distinguish between the tastes of hundreds of cheese varieties, knowing how they should taste. This means that when I get a bad cheese, I don’t blame it on the cheese-maker, I blame it on the retailer. The buying public would not be aware that the retailer may be to blame. We have a duty to represent cheese-makers in the best way possible, and everything we do revolves around that.
We believe in subscriptions. By offering subscriptions at the centre of our business, and curating one-off boxes ourselves, we do reduce the element of choice from the customer, but what that achieves is the flexibility to ensure we only send the best cheese, at the best time of year, in best possible condition. It also eliminates the ‘paradox of choice’, so common within the cheese industry.
The vast majority of our cheese is sent out cut fresh. This means we can plan effectively, and our wastage is almost 0%. We have found that most of our customers have not had the chance to learn about quality cheese and as a result trust our expertise and are happy to leave the choices to The Cheese Geek team. For instance if they subscribe for one year they would get 60 different cheeses to try over that period. This is possible because of our investment in what we call ‘Cheesetech’. It allows complex allocations, ensuring every subscriber gets a unique cheese journey.
The question of subscriptions is one that we believe to be crucial for the future of the cheese industry. It is becoming increasingly clear that consumers value ‘experiences’ rather than simply products and as result we’ve seen the industry experience tremendous growth over the last couple of years.
Whilst I believe in a physical retail presence, we aim to form an ‘experience’ rather than just driving sales on site. It is a chance for customers to get a feel for your business, approach, and of course taste some of the cheeses that we promote online.
At The Cheese Geek we don’t just provide great cheese, but we also provide a cheese journey. We include bags of information about each cheese in every delivery to create a connection that is memorable between the consumer and their cheese ultimately creating a new cheese culture.
The first ever cheese app will also ensure that this journey can be tracked digitally, in line with 21st Century consumer expectations. Our investment in tech and software also means we have created the functionality to ensure every subscriber gets a unique cheese journey, and that this is scalable.
The cheese market has fallen behind; craft beer, chocolate, coffee, olives, pasta, gin, wine (the list goes on) over the past 10 years as it has not received sufficient innovation or investment and at The Cheese Geek our mission is to change that one block of cheese at a time.