Monday, July 22, 2024

cheesegeek and Sainsbury’s pair to roll out British artisan cheese to a wider market

cheesegeek, the cheesemongers which specialises in selling British artisan cheese from small family-run producers, has signed a partnership with Sainsbury’s to roll out independent British cheese to a wider market.

“This is the first time a specialist cheesemonger has curated a branded range of cheese for a mainstream supermarket in this way,” said Edward Hancock, founder of cheesegeek.

“We want to make the finest specialty cheeses available and accessible to everyone at affordable prices, while also supporting independent British cheesemakers, who would otherwise not work directly with a multiple retailer. This is about bringing local British cheese to everyone’s kitchen tables,” he said.

The new range comes off the back of a boom for British artisan cheesemaking. At the most recent World Cheese Awards, four of the top 16 cheeses were British, the highest of any nation or region. The UK now produces about 1,000 varieties of artisan cheese, almost double the French total of 550.

According to a recent report by Mintel, 42% of British shoppers think there should be more choice of cheese in supermarkets and over a quarter (27%) prefer to buy small or independent brands when purchasing dairy – the highest of any consumer category.

However, while some supermarkets stock cheese from independent producers, most of these are continental or mechanically made from large providers. By contrast, all the cheeses in the new cheesegeek range in Sainsbury’s are made in Britain by hand according to traditional methods, using small family-run producers with grass-fed, single herds.

Sainsbury’s shoppers across 86 stores (rising to over 100 by October) will have access to a range of six individual cheeses including a Red Leicester, British brie, Alpine-style, British Gouda, blue cheese and Mature cheddar — which will rotate a minimum of twice a year depending on what’s in season — and a curated cheesebox experience containing three different cheeses. All the cheeses have been curated and batch-selected exclusively for Sainsbury’s or are otherwise only available from cheesegeek directly.

Customers will be able to rate the cheeses and get recommendations for other similar cheeses or pairings with wine and chutneys, using a QR code on the packaging of each cheese. The cheesebox experience will open to reveal a treasure trove of tasting notes on each cheese, details of the maker, whether the rind can be eaten, and the best way to cut it for the most flavour.

“We are creating an entry point to specialty cheese, at scale, using great branding and great products, none of which have been seen in mainstream supermarkets before,” said Hancock. “Customers are increasingly looking for cheeses which they know have come from makers using sustainable and responsible farming practices, that taste fantastic and that the end product can be affordable,” he added.

Hancock hopes the partnership with Sainsbury’s will also shift the dial towards the Continent and Ireland, where speciality local cheese is far more available in supermarkets. Even in the US — not perhaps traditionally seen as the purveyor of artisan cheese, 23% of the overall cheese market is specialty, compared to just 12% in the UK.

A self-confessed “cheese-obsessive,” Hancock spotted a gap in the £4 billion British cheese market while working as an analyst in the City. He founded cheesegeek in 2017 to connect artisan cheese makers with consumers.

The company — which in 2021 secured a £150,000 investment from Steven Bartlett, the entrepreneur and panellist on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme — has raised more than £2 million in three previous funding rounds, and last year successfully closed a £400,000 crowdfund deal.

Although originally focused only on selling directly to consumers from its headquarters in southwest London via the company’s website, about 50% of cheesegeek’s revenue now comes from the business-to-business market, including supplying British artisan cheese to top UK restaurants, such as Claude Bosi, the 2 Michelin Stars French chef who runs Bibendum, in London.

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