The Digital Dairy Era
This post is based on a talk I gave at the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference in February on the subject of Writing About Products for Market. Since several of you have asked about it, I’ve condensed my notes and included a link to my PowerPoint presentation. Please feel free to share!
Observation #1: We live in a digital dairy era.
When people buy a cheese, they google it to find pairing ideas and to learn about its history. Marketing your cheese, or any artisan product, means connecting – connecting your eaters to the information they are looking for. If you share your story, your favorite pairings, your process, they can re-share it with their family and friends, and this creates a network of fans. I know because I rely on that very network here.
Six years ago, I started blogging about cheese to educate myself about something I loved. Then I sought out cheesemakers. I found them online and showed up at their market stands. I posted pictures of these experiences, and eaters started following. That led to tasting parties, which turned into workshops, which turned into a book where I shared pairing tips and cheese stories, which turned into a trip to Italy for blog readers, which turned into this moment.
Think of social media as the night sky – you’re a point in it. By reaching out, you connect to others and build your own constellation.
Observation #2: Eaters are Instagrammers.
In 2014, the largest demographic of specialty foods buyers were aged 25-34, according the Specialty Food Association. Of all specialty foods purchased, cheese was #3 — after chocolate and olive oil, and before coffee, ice cream, and salty snacks.
Think about how to connect to your future eaters. They’re digital, they’re visual. This group, more than ever, is interested in learning about where their food comes from. They love craft beer and interactive experiences, like tastings and hands-on classes where they can be makers. Most know nothing about farm life; they’ve grown up eating processed foods, and they’re in search of authentic experiences and products.
I teach theses students in my food writing classes at Saint Joseph’s University. Many of them can not recognize a radish.
Observation #3: Hand-crafted cheese shouldn’t look like commodity cheese.
MIT anthropologist Heather Paxson has studied the renaissance of cheese making in America and written about it in her fascinating book The Life of Cheese. The challenge for artisan cheesemakers, she says? To distinguish themselves from commodity cheese by giving their cheeses identities.
How do you do you give your cheese an identity? I reached out to my Facebook network and to students in my classes for feedback. Here’s what they said…
Give it a memorable name. (Humboldt Fog, Vampire Slayer, Prima Donna.)
Avoid shrink-wrap. Look at the innovative packaging by Mystic Cheese Co. below, for example. Why hand-make a beautiful cheese and stuff it into an ugly wrapper? How will young eaters be able to recognize your craft?
Observation #4: Look for collaborators if you are too busy for these observations.
I recognize that many cheese operations are run by a single brilliant person. They don’t have time to Tweet or design clever packaging. If you are one of them, find a collaborator. Offer to trade cheese for some social media expertise or hand-lettered signage. Reach out to your eaters, your market-goers, your neighbors.
In the collaborative economy, makers often trade with makers. This breeds goodness. You learn something about their world, and they learn about yours. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local college students for interns. Trade a pound of cheese for an Instagram account, for a simple logo, for a farmers’ market sign. By inviting them to participate, you’ve created an interactive pathway. Isn’t that what led you to where you are?
Click here for my PASA PowerPoint slides. And tune in over the next few weeks for follow-up posts with a series on digital dairy identities. These posts are designed to help cheesemakers navigate the world of social media and branding. Please feel free to chime in with questions and stories.