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Grocers can't just be merchants anymore - to a great extent, they must be educators in order to guide today's shoppers, who are more interested in food than ever before but not as kitchen-savvy as earlier generations, in the proper and creative use for trendy foods and ingredients.
One area of the supermarket benefiting from that education is specialty cheese, and The Kroger Co. has been a leader in driving consumers' cheese education, in particular through its partnership with New York-based Murray's Cheese and its store-within-a-store concept. Murray's counters at many Kroger banners are staffed with knowledgable cheesemongers, and the Cincinnati-based grocer is taking that knowledge base up a notch.
Kroger just announced that 13 of its associates and four Murray's associates have been named Certified Cheese Professionals by the American Cheese Society. All 17 have joined the ranks of an elite group of individuals who have passed the Certified Cheese Professional Exam.
Bringing Cheese to a New Level
"This is only the third year of this certification program, but it is already bringing the cheese profession to a whole new level," said Rob Kaufelt, owner and president of Murray's Cheese. "After studying everything from milk chemistry to aging techniques to pairing and serving cheeses, these mongers are now even better equipped to educate and delight our customers."
The exam was created by the American Cheese Society to promote the large and comprehensive world of cheeses and encourage food industry professionals to master the knowledge. Before taking the exam in Sacramento this summer, the associates participated in a rigorous 3-month training course led by Amanda Parker, director of Kroger programs at Murray's Cheese. Parker has also been tapped to co-chair the American Cheese Society's annual conference in 2015.
"We are proud of our associates for working so hard to earn this important recognition, which reflects their commitment to gourmet cheese craft," said Margaret McClure, Kroger's VP of deli/bakery. "Kroger's unique partnership with Murray's Cheese continues to inspire our associates to share their passion for cheese with our customers every day."
Through an exclusive partnership with Murray's Cheese, the Kroger family of stores features more than 140 Murray's counters in stores from coast-to-coast. Featuring more than 175 cheeses and specialty goods from all over the world, the Murray's counters are staffed by associates who have been trained by the Murray's experts in New York.
Among the stores featuring Murray's Cheese locations are those under Kroger's King Soopers banner in Colorado, one of which will be featured in Progressive Grocer's November 2014 issue as the Store of the Month.
The following associates have achieved ACS certification:
Beth Peterson (Portland, Ore.)
Laurel Ross (Seattle)
Shannon Strom (Seattle)
Fry's - Scottsdale, Ariz.
King Soopers - Denver
Jill Davis (Atlanta)
Sue Kargl (Louisville, Ky.)
Kate True (Cincinnati)
QFC - Seattle
Murray's Cheese - New York City
Kroger operates 2,640 supermarkets and multidepartment stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under two dozen local banner names including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry's, Harris Teeter, Jay C, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs and Smith's.