Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Liz Thorpe

Q: How is Murray’s reaching consumers today?

A: For us, the concept of the neighborhood store isn’t changing, and that’s what’s important about what we’re doing. We like knowing the folks who walk in our door and having everyone taste the cheese. It’s part of the shopping experience. That said, we are getting more sophisticated about how we communicate with people. Email marketing continues to be really critical, and we’re starting to take advantage of social networking outlets like Twitter. For people who are into cheese and into Murray’s, it’s a great way for them to be directly tapped into knowing what’s going on right this second.

Q: We hear you’ve also partnered with Kroger?

A: We are little and they are very big, so it’s a very interesting model for us. We’ve begun opening cheese shops in Kroger delis that are similar to our New York shops. This allows us to bring our knowledge and expertise on sourcing, product selection, education and customer service to a different format. We’ve found our sales increasing and we are now able to share our enthusiasm for food with a larger audience. We’re actually going to be opening 50 of these shops in the next 36 months.

Q: How has the economy affected Murray’s?

A: Certainly the economy has helped the retail areas of our business because we see people shopping more and cooking at home. What’s kind of cool about cheese is that it is, I think, an affordable luxury. For $50, you can have a party for 10 to 12 people with wine, cheese and cured meats. A party at home is considerably more social and less expensive than going to a restaurant.

Q: Do you expect these trends to continue when the economy picks up?

A: People want to learn and buy these foods to experiment with at home. With the general popularization of food through mass media like the Food Network, people are curious and they’re open to recommendations. That’s a very different attitude than even five years ago.

Q: Will we see specialty foods with a more functional benefit?

A: I think it’s possible, but it’s actually more about the fact that these foods don’t have to be improved upon or fortified. They are naturally good for you and have vitamins and minerals that don’t have to be added to them to make them more healthy. I think we’re going to see more of these specialty foods in opposition to foods like milk that has to have vitamin D added back into it to be good for you.

Q: How will specialty foods reflect the trend toward health and wellness?

A: For us, it’s about real food, not processed food—food that has simple ingredients that your body knows how to digest and use. In particular, the connection that we’ll start to see strengthen between the food industry and health and wellness is this focus on real food.–Interview by Kelsey Blackwell

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