Vermont Cheese Sees Challenges and Opportunities in Shifting Markets
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WAITSFIELD, Vermont – As the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted consumer behaviors across the U.S., cheesemakers in Vermont have had to juggle to find new ways to connect with their consumers. As part of the $650 million cheese industry in Vermont, their products are often featured in restaurants in the New York City and Boston areas, retailed in specialty food shops, sold at storefronts on farms, or passed into consumers’ hands at farmers markets. The shift seen in consumers’ abilities to access these locations has dramatically impacted many cheesemakers’ abilities to sell their products, resulting in 50-70% reductions in sales in most cases.
Lost sales channels are particularly disruptive for cheesemakers. Even if they stop producing cheese, the milking animals found on dairy farms continue to produce milk. This means that either cheesemakers continue making cheese, without a sufficient market for their cheeses, or they discard or divert their incoming milk supply. Neither situation is sustainable for even a short period of time.
As some fear that the long-term impacts of COVID-19 may severely impact artisan and farmstead cheesemakers, shifting strategy to selling product online or through specialty and artisan food stores’ websites is providing some hope for cheesemakers. In response to consumer inquiries regarding where the public can buy locally-produced cheese and help support cheesemakers, the Vermont Cheese Council has launched an Online Sales Directory. This directory provides website visitors with the ability to:
Purchase cheese directly from a cheesemaker, if the producer has an online shop
Find local cheese shops that offer Vermont cheeses and cheese boxes or baskets (often shipped or delivered door-to-door) in the New York City and Boston areas, as well as a few other locations around the U.S.
“We’ve heard that people are looking for comfort foods, and cheese is one of those foods. Whether it’s making mac ‘n’ cheese with Vermont cheddar and smoked gouda or spreading a softer cheese on toast – we’ve found consumers are turning to those dishes that feel most satisfying to sit down and dig into,” says Marty Mundy, Executive Director of the Vermont Cheese Council. “I think it’s also important to remind people that if they want local farms to remain in operation, cheese, dairy, and other locally-produced products still need to be bought by consumers. How consumers choose to spend their money during this time will have a big impact on the sustainability of local dairy farmers and the cheese industry in the region.”
About the Vermont Cheese Council: The Vermont Cheese Council represents cheesemakers throughout Vermont who are dedicated to the production and image of premier cheese. Our mission includes hosting educational events for the public and food professionals in order to learn more about the art and science of artisan and farmstead cheeses made in Vermont.