“I don’t have a background in cheese myself,” admits The Cheese Collective’s founder Sam Elsdon. “I’m a cheese fan more than anything. We used to go around local markets and visit small, independent cheesemakers and try their different cheeses. They’re lovely and much better than supermarket cheeses.
“Then obviously lockdown came in, and we couldn’t do that, but we still wanted to have nice cheese in,” he reveals. “I had a look, and there really weren’t many options out there, and no-one focusing specifically on British cheesemakers.
“I found out how much Covid-19 had impacted the industry. It was crazy. These are predominately artisan cheesemakers crafting small-batch cheeses that you won’t find in supermarkets, and they are mainly sold through food markets and to hospitality. And that disappeared overnight. On average, 70% of their business just stopped.
“During that time, I worked in a corporate social responsibility role, and we volunteered to help at the food bank, which saw far more people using them.
“So I thought, I’ll create a business that would merge the two. We wanted to focus on working specifically with award-winning British cheese makers – the people that were struggling and the best in class – because it’s a craft that we didn’t want to lose. You can’t replace that expertise. And for every cheese box purchased, we donate a meal to a local food bank on your behalf.”
The business has bloomed, with 40% sales from subscription boxes that deliver monthly cheeses direct to your door, and the remaining 60% of customers purchasing individual cheeses.
Starting up was a baptism of fire, according to Sam: “The biggest issue we’ve had was with the paper that we use because we want it to be sustainable. We were initially using a sort of recycled greaseproof paper, which should have had lasted about a week or longer. But depending on certain conditions, certain cheeses didn’t react well to it. That was a learning process.
“I enjoyed putting the business together and thinking about how we would work. We used the loan to get the website up and running and buy the first round of inventory. We also had to buy many materials, such as sustainable boxes, liners and ice packs. You have to buy them in huge quantities to be able to get any economies of scale.”