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The Cheese Expert

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05.11.2020
On average, a customer will spend €5.22 at the cheese counter – and the trend is upwards. Yet in recent years, the number of sales has been falling continuously. Could it be that the cheese counter is becoming obsolete in the age of convenience and snackification? A quick glance at the raw figures, however, shows that this drop-off cannot be attributed to age groups or certain target groups. So what are the reasons for this? In the DMK Group, people like Diana Manteufel-Siaty focus on precisely these kinds of questions.

For more than 30 years, she has been active as a sales manager for MILRAM in the area of food retail. Having trained in retail sales, working as a supermarket manager and as a trainer for the EDEKA group's cheese counters, she developed a passion for everything to do with cheese. "I just love cheese", explains the district manager for Bremen, Osnabrück and Ostfriesland. "And for me, this fascination with the product is essential, because what makes the service counter work is the staff’s advice and specialist knowledge. I can only provide the customer with advice if, despite my decades of professional experience, I continue to work on my depth of knowledge. It is this passion which, over the past year, has led Manteufel-Siaty to become the first trained cheese sommelier in the DMK Group. As in the case of wine, such specialists not only concern themselves with the sensory qualities of a product, but also with the entire process involved in its production. "What is the path that the milk takes as it turns into cheese? What are the maturation processes which are involved, and how can I influence them?" she emphasises. "Ultimately, it also helps you to get a better overview of the diversity of products and provide retailers with support in this regard."

 

Here, this cheese sommelier has raised an important point. It is, after all, the range that is available at the service counter which is decisive when it comes to success, as 40 percent of buyers, according to one DMK study, only plan to buy one particular kind. This becomes clearer when one takes a closer look at the kinds of orders people make: just under 56 per cent of buyers ask for the particular variety they are after, while 15 per cent point at the counter, at "that one there". This is a classic example of impulse buying, where the decision is just made on a visual basis. What ends up in the shopping basket is ultimately determined by the advice provided at the counter. And this is where getting the mixture right counts: "It turns out that focussing on specialities and the associated higher prices is not a solution for the cheese counters. Customers value freshness, flexibility in terms of quantity, and choice. With a wide range of products, including both specialities and products from well-known cheese brands, the service counter is an important source of sales". For Diana Manteufel-Siaty it is not just speciality products which can provide a great variety of flavours.

"With a wide range of products, including specialties as well as products of well-known cheese brands, the service counter is an important sales generator".

By training to become a cheese sommelier, Diana Manteufel-Siaty has fulfilled a dream she has had for many years: "Opportunities used to be very limited, as it was generally only possible to take the courses in Austria. Unfortunately, that was not something which could ever be combined with work. So, I am all the more delighted to have been able to take this step, with all this wonderful support from my superiors." But for this cheese sommelier, it is by no means the end of the journey. She is currently working on making the knowledge she has acquired during her training available to her colleagues, implementing a system of constant knowledge transfer. This way, expertise can be established over the long term, and multipliers can be continuously trained up: you never stop learning, after all.

"Nordlicht, for example, which MILRAM is currently bringing onto the market, is a very special cheese for me, because the sweetness of the cheese is emphasised in a very special way, as the slightly sour flavour cheese normally has on the palate is entirely absent. It is precisely these aspects that are important when providing advice on the perfect product to suit the buyer's purposes". Currently, customers aged 50 or older account for over 60 percent of buyers at cheese counters. This provides an enormous opportunity, however. This is because increasing numbers of younger people are starting to attach great importance to what they eat, paying more attention to factors such as quality and sustainability. These trends provide the cheese counter with new possibilities in terms of addressing younger target groups more directly. The main focus is on pleasure; low fat products are less and less likely to end up in the shopping basket. Expertise and personalised advice can make a real difference here.

 

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