according to the USDA. At the same time,
IRI data shows that volume sales of specialty
cheese nationwide have grown five times as fast
as the cheese category overall in the past year.
“The Wisconsin cheese category continues to
grow each year, as consumers are experimenting with cheese in new applications, reaching
for cheese as a gourmet snack or featuring Wisconsin specialty cheese on a beautifully crafted
cheese board,” says Lizzie Duffey of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board ( WMMB) in Madison, Wis.
Supermarkets, cheese mongers, industry organizations and cheese makers themselves are all
playing an important role in educating the consumer about the high-quality specialty cheeses
made in America’s Dairyland—and, more
important, translating those lessons into sales.
Skogen’s Festival Foods
At Skogen’s Festival Foods, an Onalaska, Wis.-based family- and employee-owned company
with 31 full-service supermarkets, shoppers are
purchasing Wisconsin cheese with gusto for
every eating occasion.
“In the past quarter alone, 39 out of 50 of
our top-moving cheese items in the deli department were produced in the state of Wisconsin,”
says Deli Specialist Kyle Kress. “This is a direct
reflection of [Wisconsin’s] focus on local products,” as well as its “stringent quality standards
from farm to table,” he says.
Festival Foods actively promotes Wisconsin
cheeses in its stores throughout the year. Its
weeklong Cheesefest promotion focused on
specialty cheeses each fall has been especially
successful. Kress attributes the event’s success
to the stores’ partnership with its vendors, as
well as daily cheese sampling. “Without sampling some of these items, our guests might skip
the purchase and stick with a more traditional
flavor of cheese,” he says.
“Whether it is an elaborate product demonstration or passive sampling, the biggest sales
driver is getting Wisconsin cheese in the mouths
of the shopper,” says Duffey of the WMMB.
Sampling is also critical because while shop-
pers appreciate quality, they may be inclined
to purchase on price if they haven’t tried a
particular cheese before. “Today’s consumers
are demanding quality in all foods, not just
specialty cheese,” Kress says. “Products from
our great state have had a strong reputation for
quality, as well as value, which can be attributed
to the hard work of our dairy farmers, manufac-
turers and marketers.”
Kress also cites Wisconsin’s best manage-
ment practices and regulatory requirements—
which help to ensure all cheese and dairy prod-
ucts begin with quality milk—as a driving force
in making Wisconsin cheeses competitive on
the world stage.
In addition to working with its vendor partners
and distributors to promote Wisconsin cheese,
Festival Foods works closely with the WMMB,
which provides signage and other support to pro-
mote Wisconsin-made dairy products, such as
Festival’s sought-after cheese curds.
“Promoting local cheeses is a huge deal in our
stores,” says Kress. “In all of our markets, we
offer locally made, fresh cheese curds that are so
squeaky, dogs are barking! These products are
market-specific, made fresh and delivered to us
to merchandise within 24 hours of production.”
Cheese Makers Turned Retailers
A number of Wisconsin’s artisan cheese makers
who have opened their own retail shops report
Marieke Gouda was
founded in response to
a lack of local gouda
available in Wisconsin.
In the past quarter alone,
39 out of 50 of our top-
moving cheese items
in the deli department
were produced in the
state of Wisconsin.”
—Kyle Kress, Skogen’s Festival Foods
Pounds of cheese
produced by Wisconsin
makers in 2016.