Cheese, specialty experts can differentiate stores

September 17, 2012

Stores that invest in professional staffs for key specialty areas cement their destination status.

For a dedicated group of cheese professionals, summer studies were in session. Some 121 passed an August test they had applied for last fall and became the first class of Certified Cheese Professionals in the U.S. and Canada.

They are now about to become the big cheeses in supermarkets and other parts of the cheese industry—sporting new lapel pins, patches and certificates. Their fresh status comes with their broad knowledge of raw ingredients, the cheese-making process, storing and handling cheese, selecting distributors, marketing and communicating about cheese, nutrition, and regulations and sanitation. They’ll need to recertify with the American Cheese Society (ACS) every three years.

The certification was an ACS brainstorm, and the test itself took eight years and more than 100 experts to develop. Whole Foods Market paid for 81 of its employees to take the certification exam and attend weekly prep sessions since February, according to an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal. The paper further described that 150 people were signed up to take the test, each required to have at least 4,000 hours of work experience and formal education to be eligible.

Heading into National Cheese Month in October, The Lempert Report applauds this initiative. We believe supermarkets that invest in professional staffs such as Certified Cheese Professionals, and give them latitude to leverage their insights and knowledge, will bring multiple appeals and food solutions to their customers. Their expertise will halo product offerings that they engineer, and will cast a tall shadow over the more mundane selections at retail competitors. 

Such an approach should extend beyond cheese. Why not certify butchers, who may know how to cut meat, but could do so much more to romance the meat case if they could describe the raising and feeding of animals, the store’s sourcing, nutrition, meal preparation and more.  At Winn-Dixie, meals manager Chris Scott told Beef Magazine its butchers are store ambassadors. This past Valentine’s Day, for instance, shoppers got a head start on a ribeye steak and lobster dinner by scanning a QR code on the recipe card and watching a five-minute video of a Winn-Dixie chef preparing the meal.

We think fishmongers, deli experts and baristas are also certification candidates. The more specialists a store has, the more authoritative its image, and the deeper the customer appeals.