The biggest challenges specialty cheese consumers often face is navigating the wide assortment of options available to them and getting started with the discovery of new favorites, said Jennifer Englert, senior marketing manager, specialty cheese, for Montreal-based Saputo.
In some categories, like Italian cheese (and more specifically, Parmesan), consumers plan to make a purchase in advance, but frequently don’t decide on the brand of cheese to purchase until they’re standing in front of the specialty cheese case or at the point of purchase online.
In other categories (goat, for example), specialty cheese can be more of an impulse buy and consumers are triggered by an impulse, craving or recipe.
When it comes to retail merchandising, Englert said, Saputo begins its process in the early stages of the consumers’ decision-making process, seeking to inspire them and reduce barriers to conversion.
The company accomplishes that by placing recipes and brand information in places where consumers are looking for inspiration or tools they’re using to plan mealtime.
“Our goal is to reassure consumers that we’re the authorities in our categories, and to create trusted brands to help guide their decision-making process,” Englert said.
Saputo uses paid search to ensure it’s answering common consumer questions related to specialty cheese and its brands. Next, the company makes sure its brands can be found in places the consumer is already frequenting, like recipe sites and popular influencer pages.
“When putting our brands in these places, we seek to make conversion as simple as possible, leveraging technology that will instantly add our cheeses to consumers carts at retailers nationwide,” Englert said.
In the past year, Saputo has increased its investment in the digital space significantly, supporting e-commerce sales with tactics such as sponsored search, thematic digital merchandising events, digital sampling and branded ratings and reviews. The company also has advanced in the ways it offers savings and targeting offers for consumers. Saputo partners with third-party vendors, such as coupons.com and Ibotta, to offer digital coupons and rebates.
Moving from digital to brick-and-mortar, Saputo utilizes signage and easels with more education on its brands and shelf coupons to make the products more accessible cost-wise. Where possible, Saputo works with other brands and products that are complementary to its cheeses on cross-merchandising partnerships.
In 2022, Saputo also will start bringing back a merchandising staple derailed by COVID: in-store demos to help drive the “discoverability of our cheeses,” as Englert puts it.
The launch of Saputo’s Cathedral City Brand at retail is a perfect example of effective merchandising’s huge impact on sales, Englert said.
First, Saputo secured national distribution in the brand’s first year by leveraging a combination of national public relations and media programming that focused on driving awareness and education for the brand.
In tandem with that, Saputo invested in retail marketing that included at-shelf signage and printed coupons – coupons which were visible in drive-up and online pick-up orders (to drive new trial), as well as digital coupons, rebates and sponsored search to ensure products were populating in online search results.
The company also built ratings and reviews programs to help build trust for the new-to-market brand.
“It’s an exciting time in the grocery channel,” Englert said. “COVID forced our retail partners to change and adapt quickly, but they rose to the occasion and are exploring entirely new ways of rising to meet their customers. Saputo is thrilled to be invested in growing with our retail partners and adapting as new opportunities for merchandising are created and made available to brands.”