• Swanky

Meet Tom from Quicke's - the Cheese Empire in the South West

We announced last week that Exeter’s very own Quicke’s Cheese will be sharing their South West success story on the Ecommerce Unlocked stage.

We sat down with Tom Chatfield, Head of Sales & Marketing at Quicke’s, to find out a bit more about the cheese empire that’s tickled tastebuds across the nation.

Tom Chatfield, Head of Sales & Marketing at Quicke’s Cheese. Image: Quickes.co.uk

So Tom, tell us a bit about your role as Head of Sales & Marketing at Quicke’s and what it involves.

My role involves everything related to Sales and Marketing, including our commercial strategy. In terms of my day to day, that can be any of that stuff, or travelling around the world to sell cheese, managing people, and judging cheese at events like the World Cheese Awards. We also eat a lot of our own cheese, as we’re involved in things like grading and selection, which is where we taste every batch of our cheese that we made 3 months and a year ago. Then I also do things like help teach masterclasses and develop the curriculum for the Academy of Cheese, which is something that Mary Quicke set up and launched in 2017. There are a lot of tentacles to the cheese world!

Hannah, one of the event organisers, adds: It’s going to make a lot of people very hungry when they read this interview!

Image: Quickes.co.uk

Could you give us some background on Quicke’s and how it’s evolved over the years?

The farm has been in the family since roughly 1540 — that’s the best guess between the current generation, which is the 14th generation of the owners of the farm. They were minded to start making cheese in the 60s, and then that really got going in the early 70s from a commercial point of view. There would have been cheese-making in the farmhouses prior to then, but the 70s are when it really got going. We were selling at that point to people like Paxton & Whitfield in London, who were our first wholesaler. Through to say the 90s we had significant distribution into supermarkets. We’ve developed our strategy further in the last 20 years, particularly through export, which is now 40% of our sales, and more recently, we’ve had more focus on ecommerce.

Image: Quickes.co.uk

When did you make the move into ecommerce?

I started in 2012, and at that time we had what our farm manager described as a ‘good 90s farm website’, where we sold cheese online, and customers could pay with PayPal. We were selling about 15-20% of what we do now. When we rebuilt our site with Shopify in 2017, we noticed that we were selling a lot more cheese. Then, in 2019, we were establishing whether to develop ecommerce, and now we’re in a phase of deciding how we do that. Our ecommerce is a modest part of our business, but we see it as an important part, especially for our future strategy.

What three words would you use to describe the Quicke’s brand?

Heritage, forward-thinking, and world-class.

Which retail channels does Quicke’s use to sell its products?

We sell domestically to supermarkets, to Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S, Morrisons, and then online we sell to Ocado. The bulk of our retail sales are through independents, so farm shops, and food halls like Harrods and Selfridges, and obviously specialist cheese shops. We also have our website, and our newly opened Cheese Box, which is a small cheese shop on the farm. We promote online sales through social media. We do Facebook remarketing and things.

Quicke's online store runs on the Shopify ecommerce platform. Why did you choose this particular solution?

Abby Allen was our Marketing Manager at that time, and she has extensive retail/online experience and is the Sales and Marketing Director at Piper’s Farm nowadays. It was really that she knew that the Shopify platform suited our needs, in terms of being future-proof enough but also basic enough for the quite modest levels of online sales that we have currently.

Have there been any major challenges with making the move to ecommerce?

Our fulfilment is the challenge because we have our own retail stuff on the farm, but in general, we are packing pallets of cheese not small boxes, and sending them via our courier which is not in our DNA in the same way. It has been challenging to get that to the same standard as other areas of the business. Having something which is not currently scaled feels quite complex, relative to the amount of sales we are making; the challenge is to front-load resources for an area which currently does not represent a major portion of our sales.

Hannah adds: That’s probably going to be one of the things that we will talk about at the Ecommerce Unlocked Event, how retailers are managing with fulfilment issues when they start to scale, and when they start selling internationally as well.

Tom continues: We’ve avoided the international thing so far. One tree of the family of Quicke’s is down in France, and they would quite frequently order through the farm shop, but the couriers were tricky so we decided to not to do that for the foreseeable future. Only people in the UK can use the online store at the moment.

Image: Quickes.co.uk

What would you say are the main benefits and challenges of being a South West-based retailer?

Access to labour is a challenge; it can be quite difficult to get people with the expertise which we want. It is arguably a narrower field, but as businesses who offer what we offer are not in such high numbers. Attracting and retaining people can be difficult. Footfall is a challenge in such a rural area. Visibility as a brand in terms of a broader national reach can be challenging, since London is a pivotal market for us and is a bit further away. Although we have recently hired a couple of people within London to help with that.

Lifestyle is one of the big benefits — being able to surf after work, and get out on Dartmoor and all that kind of stuff is great — I’m sure that’s why a lot of us are here. Devon, from a production point of view, is incredibly abundant and exciting, and is developing quite quickly in terms of restaurants too. And from a retail point of view, there have been a lot of small businesses, particularly in the last 5 years, which have been popping up and which are doing really neat things.

Thanks Tom! We look forward to hearing more about Quicke’s journey through the ages on the Ecommerce Unlocked stage.

If you want to hear more about how Quicke’s Cheese has evolved into a multichannel cheese empire, grab your ticket for Ecommerce Unlocked: South West now!