In the early days of the pandemic, this magazine reported on the cheese and specialty food shops around the country who were scrambling to adapt their businesses to a new reality. Having lost their walk-in traffic overnight due to lockdowns, retailers had to embrace the digital world— adding ecommerce platforms to their websites and getting creative with virtual events. “All this upheaval forced us to really get our online business in good working order,” Danielle Sutton, co- owner of St. James Cheese Company in New Orleans, told culture in late 2020.
Even before the pandemic, however, cheese lovers who might not have an independent shop nearby were buying cheese online. “Etailers” such as iGourmet, Zingerman’s, and Gourmet Dash say they are just as committed to championing artisan products and providing exceptional customer service as brick-and-mortar shops.
Mountaintop, PA | Founded in 1997 | Number of Products: 4,000-5,000
MISSION: Our goal is to offer high quality imported and domestic cheese from some
of the finest producers in the US and abroad. We want to create a “Cheese Experience” for each customer who is either purchasing our products for themselves or those who receive our products as a gift. Having that product or gift arrive in pristine condition is something we have always taken very seriously at igourmet and pride ourselves on.
BEST SELLERS: Our customers continue to evolve in their appreciation for authenticity in cheeses and gourmet products. Italian hard cheeses and French soft ripened cheeses are always going to drive sales. In addition, there is a continued rise in the demand and quest for American artisanal items. Just as consumers have created an appreciation for craft beers, small batch wineries, and such, there is the growing awareness and demand for high quality local and artisanal foods.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: The challenges have always been balancing the supply
and demand. There are so many variable influences that can unsuspectingly spike the demand for a given item or items. It could be the mention or use of an item by a celebrity chef, it could be a news article, it could be a breakdown in production, or as recently experienced, supply chain interruptions with imports. We very much must stay on top of all these to do our best in making sure we have just what our customers are looking to us for.
— Arn Grashoff, vice-president, procurement igourmet.com
Decatur, GA. | Founded in Europe in 2005; Relocated to US in 2008
Number of Products: 1,500+ including 500+ cheeses
MISSION: My husband and I created Gourmet Dash together, I am a European nutritionist who is also a lover of good food, and my American husband (Bill Hebb) is an international IT technologist. We built a website while we were living in The Netherlands. From the first day the website was live, most of our customers were Americans, so it was not difficult to take the logical next step and move ourselves and the business across the Atlantic. The goal was to create an online store that offers gourmet and specialty food from all over the world at an affordable price and encourages people to try and experience new things.
— Marinika Heinrich, co-founder gourmetdash.com
BEST SELLERS: We’re a source for those who know what they want but can’t find it close to home. Our customers return for their monthly wheel of Roquefort, pound of Maytag Blue or hard-to-find international favorites like myzithra, Gjetost, and Époisses. We’re also a good source for cheese-centric entertaining supplies: half-wheels of raclette, hunks of Appenzeller and gruyere for fondue, and cheese board collections that people use for hosting or gifts.
— Christy Caye, ACS, CCP, CCSE gourmetdash.com
BIGGEST CHALLENGE/JOY: I really miss speaking with customers in person. But like with all challenges, I’ve had to adapt and invent new ways to feel connected to our customers, and that growth brings great joy. We’ve developed an area on our site, Cheesemongers Corner, where our cheesemonger team can share information on products and items we are excited about. Not everyone lives within driving distance of a cheesemonger. The opportunity to bring that service virtually to people in every corner of the country is very exciting.
— Christy Caye
Ann Arbor, Mich. | Founded in 1999 | Number of Products: 1,000
MISSION: Tom Root and Toni Morell launched Zingermans.com as a way for folks to order and ship food across the country—basically taking orders online for Zingerman’s Mail Order, which was founded by Maurice Frechette in the early 90s. Customers can order gift boxes and gift baskets and different monthly clubs, right on down to a single no-nut magic brownie bite (and everything in between).
BEST SELLERS: Most of what we ship out the door is a gift, so our biggest sellers are things like the Sour Cream Coffee Cake, The Weekender Gift Box, the Reuben Sandwich Kit, and the Charcuterie and Cheese Gift Box.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE/JOY: After nearly 30 years there’s no denying we are a seasonal company with our sales peaking during the holidays. Training and keeping enough staff to get us through that busy time is now and will forever be our biggest challenge. We go from a crew of roughly one hundred employees to about 450 for November and December, and if we can’t hire enough folks to get the boxes out the door it will be a disappointing holiday for people here in Ann Arbor and all over the country. The biggest joy comes from seeing the impact we’ve had on our local community, the thousands of people who’ve worked with us over the decades and (hopefully) the lives we’ve touched.
— Brad Hedeman, marketing and product selection zingermans.com