A Meaty Proposition

Deli experts discuss the latest trends in deli meat.

Keith Loria

Deli meats have been a great solution for customers during the pandemic, as many found themselves in their home office searching for meal solutions throughout their quarantine and stay-at-home time.

Once the pandemic hit, deli meat sales saw a huge rise in demand, as more consumers were eating at home and many people opted for lunches with the food they bought themselves at the supermarket.

In fact, according to data from Chicago-based IRI, deli meat sales rose 11.5% in 2020 once the pandemic started, and the segment accounted for 21% of total dollar sales for the supermarket deli. In 2021, those numbers have held mostly steady, with demand continuing throughout the year.

Deanna Depke, marketing manager of Volpi Foods, St. Louis, notes during the pandemic, deli meats became very popular as regular meat was becoming expensive and scarce.  So much so that with Consequently, people were coming up with creative ways of using deli meats besides sandwiches and boards.

“People were becoming creative and inventive with their deli meats,” she says.

Evan Inada, charcuterie/partnerships director at Columbus Craft Meats, part of Hormel Foods in Austin, MN, believes the latest deli buzz comes from shoppers’ excitement of their deli masterpieces that they are able to create themselves at home—those that they have been sharing on their social platforms to all their friends and family.

“Marketplaces are capitalizing on this new interest in food exploration by providing fun and easy recipes to help them create amazing flavors in between the bread slices,” he says. “This is the biggest thing in deli recently, and a trend I see definitely continuing.”

Whether it’s a single lobe peppered turkey slow smoked with hickory wood or a sage and rosemary rubbed pork loin, the marble and texture the shopper is rewarded with when getting a premium deli meat behind the glass is exactly what they are desiring to serve their needs.

“As we talk about handmade masterpieces, part of the fun around making your own signature deli sandwich by hand is adding your own combination of condiments, vegetables and cheese in your sandwich and still being able to taste the meat,” Inada says. “Shoppers are enthusiastic to pay a little more money for the quality and purer flavors that full muscle deli meats provide in creating amazing flavor in your deli creation.”

Carl Rambo, chief sales officer of Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats, Wittenberg, WI, has seen an increase across the board for its retail products sold in grocery stores, butcher shops and specialty stores.

“COVID-19 shifted consumer behavior from dining out to preparing meals at home,” he says. “Dining restrictions, closures, meat shortages and concerns over exposure to the virus were all contributing factors.”

The tightening of the labor market also played a role in consumer behavior, he says.

“With fewer employees available to prepare food and serve shoppers at retail, pre-sliced and bulk pre-sliced smoked bacon, Canadian bacon and beef became more popular options at the deli counter,” Rambo says. “Pre-sliced, bulk packaging benefited both the retailer and the shopper, requiring less labor to prepare for sale, and buying in bulk means fewer trips to the store at a more competitive price than traditional, smaller serving options in the deli space.”

A Place on Charcuterie Boards

But it’s not just the single deli meat items that are popular. Jaline Isidor Horta, digital marketing director at Cibao Meat Products in Rockaway, NJ, says the hottest trend to expect in 2022 is a rise in charcuterie boards with a selection of deli meats included.

“With the pandemic being calmed down so to speak and certain things going back to a new normal, people are now gathering whereas for the past year and a half they weren’t,” she says. “A modern-looking appetizer that’s quick to make or the charcuterie boards—it looks fancy, quick to do and not that expensive unless you go for high-quality meats.”

Charcuterie boards have managed to flex between restaurant menus and picnic tables effortlessly and show no signs of slowing down.

“Consumers are discovering the world of charcuterie and the vast array of flavors, types and benefits of these items,” Depke says. “Above all else, charcuterie items provide a way for the deli to remain relevant across occasions and aid in bringing joy to any gathering.”

She notes that staples like prosciutto and sopressata salame are go-to items for novice consumers, and the company expects to see that trend continue through 2022.

“More casual consumers of charcuterie will be looking to further upgrade their boards with new flavors largely inspired by Spain: Jamon Serrano and chorizo,” Depke says. “For families looking for options everyone will enjoy, we also anticipate mortadella to continue its growth as it makes its way onto sandwiches and into lunchboxes for all ages.”

Going Natural

Many consumers have turned towards more natural deli meats, opting for organic, clean and grass-fed products, which are often leaner.

“You can also tell the difference when you cook, as some produce more oil than others,” Horta says. “With the health trend continuing to be more and more popular, I believe that the heavy demand is still there.”

The pandemic has given consumers an endless amount of time to research and review what is in the products they are adding to their carts and serving their families.

“This has led to an increased demand for all-natural products that are transparent about what is—and is not—in them,” Depke says.

New and Improved

Even though meats like ham, roast beef, corned beef and pastrami continue to be big sellers, many consumers are looking for more than the traditional deli meats these days.

For instance, Cibao Meat Products will soon come out with a variety of different chorizos to market to different ethnicities. The seasoning in each vary, and the company is very excited to start promoting these new products sometime in 2022.

In 2021, Volpi launched a domestically-produced sliced Jamon Serrano in response to growing trends for Spanish-inspired charcuterie. All Volpi products are all natural, made without synthetic nitrates and nitrites and in March of 2021, are entirely sourced from the company’s Raised Responsibly farm partners.

Packaging Matters

With new products comes new packaging, and that’s true with deli meat, as well.

“We need them to stand out from what our consumers purchase day in and day out,” Horta says. “We are going in a new direction in terms of packaging as well as using bright and vibrant colors to draw customers’ attention. We are very excited about the new projects that we have in place for 2022.”

In 2020, Volpi transitioned its entire line of presliced meats to an Eco-Pack paper-based material that reduces the amount of single-use plastic by more than 70%. In 2021, the company furthered its promise to deliver products in Better-for-the-Earth packaging by converting all bagged items to fully recyclable materials.

A Pivot in Marketing

When COVID first hit, supermarket delis needed to find alternative ways to do demonstrations for its deli meat products.

“The traditional way of how we did things by offering samples was not allowed due to the restrictions in place, leaving us with no other choice but coming up with something different and new so we could still get the word out and that we sell our products in that store,” Horta says. “We started doing digital demos where we would have a representative present our products with a QR code that people could scan and enroll in a basket giveaway of our products.”

This helped boost sales and also was a good way to get names of people to add to a mailing list.

According to Depke, cross merchandising continues to be the most important tool retailers can use to promote specialty deli items.

“As key holidays approach, it is important to meet consumers where they are in terms of aisles and bundle solutions,” she says.

Columbus Craft Meats has created a lot of fun and tasty recipes teaching shoppers how to make restaurants’ signature sandwiches along with its own special creations to inspire lunch at home.

“Having online recipes living on our customers’ websites as well as providing plenty of options around charcuterie demos has allowed us to connect with our shoppers who have trusted our flavor building expertise,” Inada says. “Merchandising ingredients like cheese, spreads and artisan breads near the deli set further inspires shoppers to make their own Cuban sandwich or Philly Cheese Steak at home.”

One challenge that’s sure to raise some concern for consumers purchasing deli meats next year is that supply chain issues and increased prices for labor and freight are going to cause prices to rise. Tyson Foods even sent a heads up recently to a couple of its distributors, preparing them for the rise in deli meats pricing, explaining increases of 5% to 10% are expected come January.

Still, most in the industry believe that deli meats will continue to stay popular in 2022, even with higher prices.

And while volumes on deli meats have pulled back from the peak months of the pandemic, activity remains strong and is expected to outperform same period results from quarter four 2019 and 2020 when sales figures for 2021 come in. DB


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