By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor

For the second year, The National Provisioner recognizes companies that are leading the way in the deli meat sector.
Don’t for a minute think that one ham and cheese sandwich is the same as the next one. Or at least, don’t try telling that to the four honorees of this year’s Deli Processing Awards. They have discovered how to make their deli products stand out from the competition.
The time is ripe for innovation in the deli sector. Consumers are pressed for time, so they are increasingly looking for the components for a quick meal — preferably, one that is affordable as well. If they can get everything they need for a meal on the go, they will be satisfied, but with increased competition and selection in the deli, convenience and price isn’t always enough to win over a consumer. However, if they can get all that and end up with a meal that tastes good as well, they are likely to come back again and again.
The companies in this special section have been able to successfully combine good taste and convenience, resulting in winning products. The National Provisioner would like to congratulate all four companies for continuing to innovate in the deli category.
Applegate Farms and Dietz & Watson: Two companies have enjoyed a strong partnership while providing all-natural and organic deli meats to consumers who are looking for a healthy alternative.
Deli Express: Every week, consumers eat more than one million fresh, prepackaged sandwiches, burritos and breakfast sandwiches, all of which are made in the company’s state-of-the-art Minnesota facility.
John Morrell & Co.: This subsidiary of Smithfield Foods has successfully taken the local Kretschmar brand and expanded it across all proteins as well as across the country.
Oscar Mayer: The company’s Deli Creations hot sandwich melts provide all the components needed for a hot, tasty sandwich in one package. As an added consumer benefit, the sandwich heats up in just a minute.  
Is your company on the cutting edge of the deli category? Do you have a new product that should be considered for next year’s Deli Processing Awards? If so, feel free to contact The National Provisioner and tell us about your product. E-mail Sam Gazdziak at with the information, which could include a press release and pictures of the deli items.
Applegate Farms/ Dietz & Watson
Consumers have been becoming more interested in natural and organic meats in their meat case and in their restaurants. It’s only appropriate that natural meat is available behind the deli counter, too. For more than 20 years, Applegate Farms has been giving consumers a natural alternative when they are looking for deli meats.
Applegate Farms was the first company to offer a natural alternative in the ready-to-eat meat category and offers more than 80 natural meat products and 20 certified organic products. From turkey to roast beef to ham, the products are all made without artificial ingredients, coloring agents or chemical preservatives.
The meats have been found primarily in the all-natural and organic grocery stores. Stephen McDonnell, founder and CEO of the company, says that the company’s deli meats have been gaining ground in the mainstream marketplace, one chain at a time. “The chains that are most committed to this category — and when I say committed, it’s not just because they see it as a growth area but in that they deeply understand what’s behind this movement — they are the ones we do best with,” he explains. “The mass market potential is really starting to happen, but we’re still in the early stages of that development.”
Part of the success of the Applegate Farms brand has been the partnership between the company and Dietz & Watson, the processor who makes the deli meats. McDonnell calls Dietz & Watson the best deli processor in the country and adds that thanks to its focus on consistency and quality control, Applegate can focus on things like products and distribution.
The relationship began more than a dozen years ago after a fire in Applegate’s facility. Dietz & Watson was one of the companies who did the processing as the factory was being rebuilt. “When we started getting product back, I looked at it and said, ‘These products are better than the ones we’re making ourselves,’ and that was the basis for the beginning of the relationship,” McDonnell says.
Dietz & Watson has been able to successfully produce a natural deli item, and McDonnell says there are not many companies who were willing to try. “It took us a long time to figure out how to get a turkey breast to hold together without using sodium phosphates. There is a lot of R&D and developmental work that we’ve gone through with Dietz & Watson that goes unnoticed. It’s not just about making it, it’s about making a product in a completely new and different way,” McDonnell points out.
McDonnell also lauds Dietz & Watson for its segregation of Applegate’s raw materials from the processor’s conventional products. “It’s a lot of extra work, but they’re very committed to making sure that the meat that we specify is used only in our product. It’s transparency and quality separation that’s required to make the product,” McDonnell says.
Applegate Farms recently added buffalo chicken and barbecue chicken to its deli line. It has also perfected the method of getting a ham pink without using sodium nitrates in recent years, adding a slow-roasted ham and a maple hand-tied ham to its lineup. “There’s still a lot of growth left in our line,” McDonnell says.  
Product: Applegate Farms all-natural and organic deli meats
Processor: Dietz & Watson, Philadelphia, Pa., for Applegate Farms, Bridgewater, N.J.
Key Personnel: Applegate Farms: Chris Ely, Co-Founder; Diane Kull, Vice President of R&D and Quality Assurance; John Gleichenhaus, New Product Manager
Dietz & Watson: Butch Dietz; Wes Mazur, Bob Seaver, Joe McMurtrie
John Morrell & Co.
Kretschmar Deli has been around since 1883, when Ernest Kretschmar started up his line of deli products in St. Louis. Almost 125 years later, the brand is a division of John Morrell & Co., a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, but the devotion to quality has remained intact.
Kretschmar produces a full line of deli items, including hams, turkey, cooked beef, sticks and loaves. Paying tribute to the heritage behind the brand, the Kretschmar meats and cheeses are made with the highest quality ingredients and old-world methods. The hams are made with a unique hardwood smoking process and all-natural flavorings, and its poultry products are made with all-natural flavors and use no artificial ingredients.
John Morrell acquired the Kretschmar brand name in 1990. Morrell is a long-established processor in its own right. In fact, it is the oldest continuously operating meat processor in the United States, having gotten its start in England in 1827. It has annual sales of more than $2 billion and produces more than 3,000 pork and processed meat items.
One of John Morrell’s great success stories is how it took the local Kretschmar brand and grew it into a nationwide brand. “The beauty of the concept is that we started from scratch with a couple ham items and then developed the brand across all proteins,” says John Pashea, John Morrell’s vice president of deli sales. To help grow Morrell’s deli sales more, it grew the deli division, adding on the necessary staff to do so. “The new team members soon saw a challenge and wanted to take the products into national distribution.”
Along with growing the meat side of the Kretschmar brand and adding on new proteins, John Morrell also added on to the company by adding a line of cheeses in June. It also brought on regional sales managers to help deliver the benefits of Kretschmar products to more supermarkets and restaurants.
“We started with a limited regional distribution, and it was not before long before we were at 25 million pounds,” Pashea says. “We are now producing and selling substantially more pounds, and we continue to achieve growth along with our customers. Moreover, customers who switched to Kretschmar products for their deli operations are seeing their programs grow by up to 20 percent.”
Product: Kretschmar brand deli meats
Processor: John Morrell & Co., Cincinnati, Ohio
Key Personnel: John Pashea, vice president of deli sales; Erik Waterkotte, director of marketing
Oscar Mayer
Helping time-crunched Americans find a quick and tasty meal has been part of Oscar Mayer’s strategy for years now, so it’s no surprise that the company’s latest venture, Deli Creations, would give consumers one more winning option for eating on the go.
“Seventy percent of Americans work straight through lunch or spend five to 10 minutes eating a quick bite,” explains Tim Cofer, senior vice president and general manager for Oscar Mayer. “Consumers would eat out and have told us that [they] would like to enjoy a hot sandwich, but who has the time? As a result, Oscar Mayer is reframing our product category and bringing restaurant quality to the supermarket.”
Deli Creations hot sandwich melts, launched this April, is a build-your-own sandwich kit complete with Oscar Mayer shaved deli meats, premium Kraft cheeses, specialty sauces — including Kraft Light Mayonnaise and Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard — and a sub roll that heats in the microwave, allowing consumers to enjoy a hot sandwich with a minute of heating. “The Oscar Mayer Deli Creations line leverages the scale of Kraft,” Cofer notes.
The line consists of five sandwich-shop-inspired varieties: Shaved Turkey & Cheddar Dijon, Shaved Oven Roasted Ham & Cheddar, Shaved Honey & Swiss, Shaved Steakhouse Cheddar, and Shaved Turkey Monterey. Each kit, which has a suggested retail price of $2.99, comes with a specially designed microwave tray that enables consumers to build and heat the product with a minimum of work.
Cofer says that the biggest hurdle to overcome in creating the line was developing the bread. “How do you develop a bread that stays soft when you microwave it?” Cofer asks. “We were able to lever our rising dough technology from DiGiorno [Kraft’s line of frozen pizzas]. The result [is] a hot and melty sandwich with a soft and warm bun right out of the microwave.”
Cofer says that the Deli Creations have been a hit with the consumer so far. “Repeat is higher than planned, and Oscar Mayer Deli Creations are 65 percent incremental to the meat case — a factor we consider a true measure of innovation,” he says.
Product: Deli Creations Hot Sandwich Melts
Processor: Oscar Mayer, Madison, Wis.
Key Personnel: Tim Cofer, Senior Vice President and General Manager; Chris Kwiat, Katie Kastman, Cory Painter - R&D Product; Jennifer Sarno - R&D Package; Tracy Hostetler, Chris Carlisle - Marketing; Sarah Becker, Linda Finger - Marketing Research; Pete Doll, Steve Steiert - Manufacturing
Deli Express
Deli Express, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., supplies more than a million consumers each week with fresh-tasting deli sandwiches. Convenience stores, drug stores, vending machines, delis and more have all contributed to the company’s status as the country’s top-selling sandwich brand in convenience stores.
Starting off as a franchise of the Stewart Sandwich Co., the E.A. Sween Co. was founded in 1955. Now a division of the Sween Co. and with more than 900 employees nationwide, Deli Express distributes its sandwiches to more than 25,000 locations and vending machines. It offers many varieties of hot and cold sandwiches, including hamburgers, burritos, submarine sandwiches and more. Those sandwiches are made with top-quality breads, cheeses and meats, including John Morrell ham, Butterball turkey and Jennie-O Turkey Store turkey.
The sandwiches are all produced in the company’s state-of-the-art facility in Eden Prairie. Using modified-atmosphere packaging techniques, the company is able to maintain the look and freshness of the product. The sandwiches are then frozen and transported to distribution centers around the country.
Last year, the company remodeled its 30,000-square-foot facility, giving the company a ready-to-eat facility that featured flexibility, improved people and product flow and improved food safety.
The company’s expertise in deli sandwiches has brought it several accolades over the years. In 2001, Deli Express was voted “Vendor of the Year” and inducted into the Convenience Store Industry Hall of Fame. It also received an “Award of Excellence” in 2002 from chefs judging on behalf of the American Tasting Institute. In 2006, Deli Express received honorable mention in the first annual Convenience Store Reader’s Choice Award as the top performing supplier in Hot and Cold Sandwiches.
Product: Deli Express sandwiches
Processor: Deli Express, a division of the E.A. Sween Co., Eden Prairie, Minn.