Sustainability Series: Murray’s Cheese
April 30, 2014
Founded in 1940 and based in Greenwich Village, NYC, Murray’s is a specialty cheese and charcuterie shop with locations in New York and kiosks at grocery stores nationwide. Murray’s ripens hundreds of cheeses to perfection in their state-of-the-art caves located right below Bleecker Street. We talked to Murray’s Owner and President Rob Kaufelt about the importance of providing customers with a great tasting, sustainable product.
How does your business define sustainability?
I'm only a grocer running a business that's 75 years old next year. Good things are interesting to us; trends themselves are not my idea of sustainability. So as long as we keep finding good cheese and other foods from good producers, with good practices, and eaters agree with us that it's good, at a good price, then my business is sustainable.
How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?
The usual practices: recycling, packaging and energy management are a given. Our buyers are always looking for “slow food” from small producers in minimal packaging.
What are your short term and long term goals?
Our goals, both long and short, are to bring good cheese to everyone in America.
Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?
I expect we’ll have the biggest impact at Kroger markets across the land – we have 104 shops and counting, and 67 new shops this year alone.
What makes your cheese operation unique from others in the industry?
We know cheese. Every new producer of specialty foods wants to get into Murray's first.
We are perhaps the first specialty retailer – mom and pop, if you will – to successfully enter the mass market supermarket field while sustaining, or even improving, quality and service. I attribute this to the simple fact that I am a third generation grocer, brought up in that field, and have spent half my 43 years in food retail in supermarkets, and half in specialty food retailing. We operate cheese caves in New York City and were the first to introduce caves in an urban environment. We are obsessed with quality and having the ripest, tastiest ready-to-eat cheese imaginable, and the caves help us do just that.
How do you measure your progress?
It's always: “Is this a store I would like to shop at?" or “Would my wife want to shop here?” Is there something that makes me say: “Wow”? I do this almost every day of my life. What little improvement have we made today? It's always visceral. But it does show up in sales and profits.
How do retailers factor into your efforts?
Everywhere I go I walk into the best retailers, whether they are selling diamonds or yogurt. I visit all sorts of shops looking for good ideas.
Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?
I've been in the grocery business for 43 years and my mission is the same today as the day I started: to bring the pleasures of the table to more people. Sustainability is good business; good ethics are good business.
Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?
Every week, my buyers find better ingredients; grass fed milk; range fed chickens for prepared foods; seasonal cheeses; no trans fats, no dyes; unrefined sea salt; whole grain crackers; probiotic drinks; you name it. That's why Whole Foods and others are always in our stores: to see where the industry is heading. Food that tastes better, is better, and foods you are proud to sell and happy to eat.