Taking Their Number

By Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
Deli food offerings show that what’s behind the glass is sometimes in front of the demand curve.
For all the talk about consumers with only seconds to make purchase decisions, there still seems to be an abundance of shoppers waiting in line at the deli service case featuring standbys such as un-sliced deli meats and cheeses, an array of hot entreés, and prepared salads. The deli counter is a destination for customers who are on the go, discerning, and willing spending a little extra money.
Sales figures for this category are harder to calculate, given that so many different product types are sold on a variable weight basis. Those who analyze the segment, though, note that it is a dynamic area. “There is growth in ‘fast food’, and a good share of it is occurring in the prepared deli segment. We have been discussing how to approach that market more,” notes Karen Boillot, director of retail marketing for the National Pork Board, Des Moines, IA, adding that shredded pork and cooked loins have been especially popular.
Although hot foods including rotisserie chicken and heat-and-eat dishes such as ribs and pot roasts are taking up more space behind the glass, deli-meat processors are also developing other innovative products, many of them featuring intense flavor profiles. For example, Boar’s Head Provisions, Sarasota, FL, which has an extensive line of seasoned un-sliced luncheon meats, recently introduced Blazing Buffalo™ roasted chicken breast and Aroastica™ seasoned chicken breast.
In addition to non-traditional seasonings, premium un-sliced deli meats are also highly touted. Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC, Westminster, CO, now supplies retailers with whole-muscle Black Angus roast beef, corned beef, and pastrami. “Many retailers are moving beyond price and are focusing on quality, which is a niche we are able to fill because consumers are looking for upscale products,” notes Brad Caudill, senior vice president of marketing, adding that Creekstone is already looking at line expansions.
The future of the deli case may bring even more diverse displays. A recent “Battle of the Brands” study from the Madison, WI-based International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) lists meats, cheese, pre-packaged items, and “grab and go items” as the top four growth categories for the deli. “Respondents also said they would purchase more in the in-store deli if more natural, healthier, or fat-free products were available,” adds Alan Hiebert of IDDBA’s education department. “So I think products that can be marketed with a health-related claim, such as all natural, hormone-free,and low carbohydrate, should have good sales potential.”
Lou Cooperhouse, director of the Bridgeton, NJ-based Rutgers University Food Innovation Center, offers other predictions. “Over time we will see more real estate in a store being devoted to refrigerated and perishable foods, because that is where the money and margin is, and that is were consumers are looking for convenience,” he notes. “In the future, I predict that we will see more convenience formats, such as a store within a store with its own cash register that enables quick transactions, increased usage of kiosks, drive-thru formats like quick-service restaurants, take-out formats similar to casual restaurants, and even stand-alone ‘prepared food stores’.”