Waitrose helping struggling UK cheese suppliers

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

The box, which includes five cheeses, is available at all 251 Waitrose stores that have cheese counters. Pic: Waitrose
The box, which includes five cheeses, is available at all 251 Waitrose stores that have cheese counters. Pic: Waitrose

Related tags: Cheese, COVID-19, coronavirus, Waitrose

UK retailer Waitrose has launched a special “best of British” cheese selection box, to help its smaller British artisan cheese suppliers adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The box will be available at all of its 251 stores that have cheese counters.

The box will be filled with five of Waitrose’s most popular British artisan cheeses, including Westcombe Cheddar, Sussex Charmer, Yorkshire Blue, Cornish Yarg & Rosary Garlic & Herb Goat’s Cheese.

With Covid-19 seeing more customers shopping quickly in-store or shopping online, the move is designed to help small scale artisan cheese makers, who normally rely on the cheese service counters for business.

Alice Shrubsall, assistant cheese buyer at Waitrose, said, “Covid-19 created a big shift in the way people shop, particularly in the early stages, with more people wanting to grab and go. We recognised this trend and quickly adapted our approach to ensure our smallest cheese counter suppliers had the opportunity to sell their products in packaged form so that they didn’t lose out to the fast shopping habits adopted by customers in recent times.

“The response has been great and our customers are already returning to our cheese counters as a result of a greater wrapped assortment, which has allowed them to choose from a wide variety of cheeses while giving them the flexibility to grab and go.”

Waitrose’s “best of British” cheese selection box will be available on counters from 27th May and be priced at £15.

Waitrose’s ‘best of British’ cheese box, which retails for £15 ($18.60), follows a broader business decision to continue to stock products from its smallest cheese suppliers and keep its counters open throughout Covid-19.

However, with more people looking to “grab and go” in the early weeks of the pandemic, Waitrose worked with suppliers to find alternative solutions to sell products that traditionally required the assistance of Waitrose’s service counter staff.

Instead, products such as Mrs Bell’s Blue and Cornish Yarg, two Waitrose customer favorites, have been sold pre-packed so customers could pick them off the counter themselves.

One supplier that has been part of this trial is Caroline Bell, managing director of Shepherd’s Purse, who said, “The flexibility that Waitrose has shown through this period has been vital, not only for our sheep farmers who have also been greatly impacted by Covid-19, but for the future of our business.

“Yorkshire Blue is a key national product for us and had we not been able to sell at a normal capacity, we would be in a far different situation. As it stands, while there is still work to be done, we are now trying to reach a place where we can bring back our furloughed staff, and are very optimistic about the future.”

Catherine Mead, owner of Lynher Dairies, has also had to adapt. However, she is similarly positive about the opportunities for their Cornish Yarg cheese.

“Small businesses such as artisan cheesemakers really struggled in the first four weeks of the pandemic,”​ Mead said.

With a limited route to market due to much lower numbers shopping at counters, it’s no exaggeration to say that many such businesses, including ourselves, were at stake.

“Fortunately, thanks to our own processes and the flexibility from Waitrose’s buyers, we have been able to adapt and put our product on the counter pre-wrapped, meaning our loyal customers will be able to find us over the next 12 weeks, and even giving us the potential to attract new ones who prefer to pick and go.”

Mead said the crisis has presented many challenges but it has also created some opportunities. She said it has helped create public awareness of the importance of local produce and has put local producers on the map.

“Interestingly, this pandemic has also helped us reach new audiences in-store, while similarly generating some unexpected increases in online traffic. Pre-Covid, we would receive only two orders online per day and we are now consistently getting 100 orders daily. That is a significant increase in demand, which is quite remarkable and a very welcome silver lining during these challenging times.”

Related topics: Retail & Shopper Insights, Cheese, COVID-19

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