As a 70-year-old, family-run supplier of premium deli meats, Dietz & Watson is not afraid of a little retail competition.

“Our line of meats and cheeses are second to none, and the consumer is going to choose our product more often than any competitor,” reasons Louis Eni Jr., president. However, when the chance for fair competition was taken away, the company decided to make its case to the public.

Dietz & Watson had been a part of the deli cases in Harris Teeter stores in the Charlotte, N.C., area, when the chain fielded some consumer requests to include Boar's Head deli products. However, Eni said, Boar's Head insisted on an exclusive arrangement, so other companies' products were taken out of the cases in about a dozen stores (Eni points out that the company still supplies a vast majority of Harris Teeter stores).

Soon after, a local blogger complained that his favorite Lebanon bologna from Seltzer’s Smokehouse was taken from his local store to make way for Boar’s Head products. Eni says the company started to see more messages and blogs by consumers complaining about being unable to find their favorite Dietz & Watson products.

“It turns out consumers really do find it objectionable to go into a deli case and only be able to buy one brand,” Eni says. He notes that Dietz & Watson is a traditional, family-owned business, and that his experience in looking at the blogosphere is relatively new.

“If we can start to develop a rapport with consumers in this venue, that says something about the type of communication,” he points out. “It’s really starting to become mainstream now.”

Dietz & Watson advertised heavily in the Charlotte area with radio spots informing consumers about the decision, and it ran ads that featured Uncle Sam in a “Right to Choose” campaign. The campaign culminated in a taste test in a popular area mall, where the company set up a fully merchandised case and gave away samples of its own meats and comparable Boar's Head meats. Eni says more than 70 percent of the participants chose Dietz & Watson product.

“Exclusivity breeds mediocrity,” adds Kenneth Hoffman, advertising & communications for Dietz & Watson. “Competition causes brands to get better. Boar's Head is a fine product. But Boar's Head is a marketing machine, and Dietz & Watson is a family company that feeds other families. That's the difference in philosophy.”

A 70-year tradition

Dietz & Watson has long been one of the leading suppliers of premium deli meats, and Eni says the company has expanded its share in many markets. He notes that the company saw some consumers trying to buy down in the current economy, but sales have come back strong.

“They tried some less expensive deli meats,” he said. “But I think they are saying, ‘We may have to pull in our belts a little bit, but what we eat when we buy something at the supermarket is going to be good.’”

Hoffman points out that company’s product development skills allow it to produce new and innovative items like a bacon-lovers turkey breast — which has bacon wrapped around the turkey — and a Southern fried chicken that tastes like traditional fried chicken without being cooked in oil.

“These are the things [competitors] can’t seem to emulate,” he says. “I think it’s safe to say we’ve created the deli as a flavorful destination.”