Martha+Tom

A disturbing trend in cheese pricing

the cheese aisle at the grocery store in black and white with text that reads "the case of the deception cheese pricing"

A specter is haunting Minneapolis: the specter of per-half-pound cheese pricing. There you are, innocently perusing the fancy cheeses, thinking to yourself, “Alas! These cheeses entice me so, but I could never afford them!” But then you pick one up and glance furtively at the unit price, and lo! $10! The kids might have to skip their medicine this week, but ten-dollar-per-pound cheese you can afford.

cheese shown priced per half-poundIf you’re smart, you’ll examine that label more carefully, or, if you’re like me, you’ll examine it a few days later: printed next to the clearly visible $10 is a virtually indecipherable one-slash-two: $10 per half pound. $20/pound cheese — this is a cheese for bankers and movie stars, not for you!

Before last week, my experience with this insidious practice was limited to the cheese shop at France 44 — but one expects a certain amount shenanigans as one approaches Edina, and, on the strength of their sandwiches and liquor selection I’m willing to put up with it. Recently, though, Martha brought home a Belgian Passendale from the Uptown Kowalski’s that I was surprised to see priced at only $10 per pound. But examining the label more carefully, it was $10 per 1/2 pound. As far as I know this is a new thing for Kowalski’s — and it suggests that this nefarious pricing scheme may be spreading.

My first reaction was that I don’t like this. It feels like a trick. I can see how people might be fooled at first and stores might move a few extra pounds of cheese, but in the long run consumers will catch on, and their trust in the retailer will be hurt in the process. I don’t see any benefit to the consumer here: as long as I’ve been grocery shopping most things have been priced per pound. Most products — meats, fruits, bulk foods — are still priced this way.

The argument could be made that a 1/2# is closer to the amount of cheese a shopper will actually purchase when it comes specialty cheese, but people really buy arbitrary weights of cheese — consistent unit pricing helps with making comparisons. Unless every cheese (and other comparable products) is priced in the same way, this just adds another math problem into my grocery choices.

cheese shown priced by the pound

Lesser cheeses are still priced by the pound.

It could be worse — stores could be pricing per quarter pound, or per 3/8 pound, or pricing different cheeses in different units of weight (and different currencies!). And ultimately the best way to buy precut cheese is to hold the cheese in your hand, look at the final price and ask yourself, “Is it worth paying this much money for this amount of cheese, based on how delicious I imagine it’s going to be?” But still, come on grocers, you’re not fooling anyone — can we have a little consistency here?

2 comments | , ,

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2 comments on “A disturbing trend in cheese pricing”

  1. Benjamin 6 August, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Insidious? Nefarious? Fooling? Deceptive? Shenanigans?

    Those are some fairly harsh words. We do not ever deceive our customers at my cheese counters. Our tags clearly state that our cheeses are priced by the half pound. Just because we believe that there needs to be a paradigm shift in cheese pricing doesn’t mean we’re charlatans.

    Our goal is to provide the most incredible service to our customers. Part of that is making sure they feel comfortable with the right size piece of cheese at the right price. I’d say less than 1% of our customers will ever purchase a pound of cheese or anything larger than half a pound. We’re simply trying to put the price in the context something closer to what they might be bringing home. Yes, some are confused at first glance, but then that’s done with and they go home with something incredibly delicious.

    It would be disingenuous for me to assert that we’re not trying to avoid some sticker shock–of course we are. But why scare someone off a perfectly delicious cheese based upon the price of a piece that they would never buy?

    I take personally the implication that we are tricking people, that’s not the kind of business I run. The industry is shifting towards half-pound pricing and there are shops much more prestigious than mine that price by the half-pound. Your accusations of “shenanigans” are baseless and uninformed.

  2. Kevin 8 August, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Don’t go to Canada, they price their gasoline by the liter!!

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