COVID ushers in new brigade of online cheesemongers
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of online cheesemongers, who have eschewed bricks-and-mortar shops in favour of websites, social media and even WhatsApp groups.
Thanks to social distancing and lockdowns, there has been a huge shift to internet shopping in 2020, which has seen the UK’s weekly online food sales almost double from £176m in February to £350m in September (ONS data).
In turn, this has sparked the launch of numerous mail-order cheese businesses, including Homage to Fromage in London, Cheese on Towcest in Northants and Côte at Home – an offshoot of the Côte restaurant group.
The Micro Cheesemonger in North London was set up during the first lockdown initially as a way to help struggling artisan cheesemakers. Owner and chef Sarah Moore bought whole cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy to split with her neighbours, communicating through her street’s WhatsApp group, but this has now grown into an online cheese business, delivering to customers across the Capital, with orders received via Facebook, Instagram and a newly launched website.
“People appreciate localism at the moment; it’s been a side-effect of the lockdowns,” said Moore. “They like that knock at the door and chat on the doorstep.”
New London-based online business The Cheese Collective, which delivers nationally, also aims to support British artisan producers, as well as the Trussell Trust food bank network. For every box of cheese sold, the business will donate a meal to the organisation.
“Functioning as an online business gives us the ability to bring together cheese-lovers from across the UK, rather than just locally to us, which would be the case if we’d gone for a physical store,” said co-founder Shivali Best.
“Selling online opens the door to a wider demographic, including younger people who perhaps might not think to look for cheese beyond the supermarket.” Mathew Carver, owner of The Cheese Bar restaurant group, launched an online cheese delivery service during lockdown and has also opened a shop called Funk in Hackney.
He said the advantages of selling online include lower overheads, especially on rent, but that it was difficult to achieve the theatre and personal experience of a shop. “There’s a much better connection with the customer in the shop where you can tell the stories of the cheeses and allow them to taste.”