With our industry continuing to see charcuterie demands reaching high levels, innovation in the cheese case has never been more important. United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) is giving small cheesemakers the opportunity to elevate their brand presence with the expansion of its American Artisan Cheese and Specialty Program. I got in touch with Rebekah Baker, Director of Cheese & Specialty at UNFI, to learn more about the program and the addition of a second warehouse in the Pacific Northwest.
“We were able to double our American artisan program and capacity with a new geographic footprint,” begins Rebekah. “The program has been going on for about two years with our reach primarily in California, Utah, Arizona, and Hawaii. It’s proved to be a successful way to offer premium, high-quality, and unique American artisan producers to our retailers.”
The American Artisan program has 13 small producers so far. By opening up its second warehouse in the Pacific Northwest, UNFI now reaches three additional states and a whole new range of retailers.
As cheese is perishable and its makers are often in remote or hard-to-reach areas, having access to flight transportation enables a quicker delivery and ensures the best quality reaches retail shelves. The safety of this delicate cargo is guaranteed by UNFI’s strategic partnership with Southwest Airlines. Fresh products are picked up personally from the airport to be delivered to each retailer.
“This program was developed to focus on and highlight small American producers. We have a group of cheese specialists on our team that are certified professionals with years of experience working with cheese across retail distribution producers,” continues Rebekah. “They work in collaboration with our category managers on which cheesemakers are the right fit for the program, which allows us to work hand-in-hand with producers.”
UNFI works closely with small producers to ensure the companies are growing in the ways and at the pace they want to. The close connection created allows for both sides to prosper.
“It’s a program where we can help develop and transition them as needed, and that’s exciting to see,” Rebekah adds. “Something might be on there from a producer one time because they tried something new, and then it might never show up again. We’re constantly adjusting what’s being offered, and I think that’s the beautiful thing about this program—it really is an artisan program.”
Deli Market News will keep an eye on the skies and the wire as our industry continues to grow and innovate.