Carol M. Bareuther
It’s nutritious. It’s also delicious. No wonder the Mediterranean Diet, which features the staple ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine like olives and olive oil; fruits, vegetables, and legumes like chickpeas; and grains like pasta and bread, plus smaller amounts of charcuterie-type cheeses and meats, was ranked at the number one best diet in 2023 by U.S. News and World Report for the fifth year in a row. Health benefits from cardiac to cancer prevention, which were first recognized and named nearly a half-century ago, come from a diet rich in these flavorful foods.
“Consumers care more than ever what food and substances they are putting in their bodies, seeking foods that taste good and make you feel even better,” says Aimee Tsakirellis, executive vice president of marketing for Cedar’s Foods, in Ward Hill, MA. “Consumers also want to expand cultural tastes such as Mediterranean into their day-to-day life by looking for authentic flavors.”
The Mediterranean cuisine trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, The Fresh Market, a Greensboro, NC-headquartered grocery retailer that operates 160 stores in the East, Southeast and Midwestern U.S., released its Top Five Most Delicious Trends for 2023 and named new global flavors like Eastern Mediterranean cuisine as something consumers continue to discover. An example given was Matbucha, a Moroccan tomato salad made with roasted peppers, jalapeno, garlic, olive oil and paprika. Beyond this, the Fresh Market’s deli and prepared foods departments have long done an excellent job of satisfying customers’ Mediterranean cravings. Examples include Greek Pizza topped with feta cheese, roasted red peppers and kalamata olives; in-store-made Asiago Tortellini Salad with Prosciutto; and grab-and-go selections such as a single-serve Falafel Platter with Greek tzatziki sauce, hummus, carrots and celery sticks, and triangles of pita bread.
In the western U.S., two new Mediterranean-inspired salads were introduced last year at Gelson’s Markets, a 27-store grocery chain based in Encino, CA. These are Jessica’s Pomegranate Chicken Salad and Jessica’s Super Antioxidant Chopped Salad, named after the retailer’s Registered Dietitian who created the recipes. These salads are sold in Gelson’s Kitchen, the retailer’s restaurant-quality prepared foods department.
“When we look at the Mediterranean options that are growing on menus that could make the leap to the deli or prepared foods area, we see options like falafel, halloumi, preserved lemons, beans, seafood, tinned fish, tahini, labneh, yogurt sauces and baba ghanoush,” says Mike Kostyo, trendologist and associate director at Datassential, a Chicago-based food and beverage market research firm.
Here’s the scoop on what’s hot and what’s new in Mediterranean foods, and tips to create a Mediterranean destination that pulls shoppers straight into the deli.
WHAT’S HOT, WHAT’S NEW
Deli operators can best capitalize on the Mediterranean food trend by seeking out authentic ingredients for their store section and working with suppliers and brands to educate staff and customers on what sets these ingredients apart thanks to posters, shelf talkers and social media activations, says Sabina Belser, marketing director for the Musco Food Corp., in Maspeth, NY. “We’ve also been focusing on building a strong demo program to offer retailers. There is no strategy better than sampling to get shoppers to discover a new cuisine.”
OLIVES & OLIVE OILS. Castelvetrano, Cerignola, Kalamata and Mediterranean Mixes olives are the top sellers, says Joe Macaluso, buyer at the Musco Food. “Oil-cured olives, with a powerful taste, are somewhat losing popularity.”
Jarred Organic Green Olives labeled Olives of Love are a fair trade organic olive recently introduced to the U.S. from Sindyanna of Galilee, based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“The olives are lovingly made by our team, using traditional methods passed down from generation to generation and harvested sustainably and organically from century-old organic Souri olive groves. The olives are pickled in water and salt and contain no chemicals or preservatives,” says Ehud Soriano, olive oil consultant.
Souri adds that extra virgin olive oil is a condiment every deli should have.
FRUITS, VEGETABLES & LEGUMES. One of the clearest trends impacting consumer demand in deli and specialty is interest in compound flavors such as sweet and spicy, smoky and fruity, sweet and savory, etc, according to Brandon Gross, vice president of marketing for FOODMatch, Inc., in New York. “The Divina brand has responded with the launch of new items including Orange Calabrian Chili Spread, which has quickly become one of our most sought-after products for the deli as well as Smoked Kalamata Olives and Caramelized Onion Jam.”
The Musco Food has introduced a new line of cheese accompaniments under the Mesa Iberica brand. These include dried fruit tortas, caramelized nuts and assorted fruit spreads from Spain and Portugal.
“The line is doing extremely well thanks to its bold labels and easy merchandising right on top of the cheese case,” says Macaluso.
The most popular Mediterranean foods and flavors are garlic, hummus and lemon, which appear on more than 80% of menus, based on Datassential’s menu database, with the percentage representing menu penetration. These flavors are popular in hummus.
“Our Athenos-brand Original Hummus, Roasted Garlic Hummus and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus have new recipes featuring steamed chickpeas for a smoother and incredibly creamy texture. We’ve also added four exciting new flavors to appeal to a variety of shoppers — Chocolate, Pine Nut, Supremely and Zesty Lemon — and removed the preservative sorbic acid,” explains Kaitie Hackett, category manager for Emmi Roth USA, in Fitchburg, WI.
In April, Cedar’s Foods debuted its Topped Organic Grecian Golden Hour Hommus at retailers including Whole Foods and Sprouts. This product features a lemon and oregano base, with chickpea, herb and red pepper toppings.
“Consumers are going to be so excited about this flavor as it’s the perfect addition to charcuterie boards,” says Tsakirellis. “In May, we launch a Kroger exclusive — the Topped Organic Hot Honey Hommus, which has a spicy and sweet flavor with honey and crushed chili pepper. Our special Pumpkin Hommus will also return to shelves for the season, starting in August.”
Last year, the Musco Food introduced a new line of refrigerated gnocchi from Pataro, one of the largest producers of gnocchi in Italy. The gnocchi, made with potato and water, are available in plain, cauliflower or stuffed with cheese or tomato and mozzarella.
“These did exceptionally well in the Northeast market as it offers a gluten-free, easy-to-prepare alternative to filled pasta,” says Belser.
GRAINS. The Tour of Italy is a collection launched lately byNuovo Pasta Productions, Ltd., in Stratford, CT, that is inspired by the cuisine of various regions of Italy, says Larry Montuori, vice president of sales. “For example, from Calabria, there’s Calabrian Pepper & Smoked Mozzarella ravioli, and from the Emilia-Romagna region, Parmigiano Reggiano & Prosciutto Sacchette.”
The two best-selling breads from Valley Lahvosh, in Fresno, CA, are the 15-inch Round Cracker and Heart crackers, says Jenni Bonsignore, marketing manager. “We introduced our Lahvosh Sea Salt Minis a few years ago. They are bite-sized rounds with a dash of sea salt to add a pop of flavor. Great for a snack, to serve with cheese, or with soups and salads.”
CHEESES. Most popular are theItalian classics, says Musco Food’s Macalso, such as Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano.
“We just launched a new Cheese Glaze for the deli to add to our line-up of charcuterie and cheese board complements,” says Giuliana Pozzuto, director of marketing and product development for the George E. DeLallo Co., in Mt. Pleasant, PA. “Made in Modena, Italy, it’s a traditional Italian balsamic glaze that is perfect for pairing and drizzling on all the great deli cheeses: fresh mozzarella, burrata, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano and our very own Granino, to name a few.”
Pozzuto adds that the new Cheese Glaze can drive incremental sales when merchandised alongside these specialty cheeses. The company recently conducted successful tie-in promotions that increased cheese sales by offering the customer a deal on the glaze with the purchase of a new or featured cheese. The tactic is a great way to get consumers thinking about entertaining when in the deli.
The Athenos-brand traditional 6-ounce crumbled feta is a best seller for Emmi Roth, although Hackett says there has been growth in 12- and 24-ounce retail sizes.
“Feta is often placed with fresh cheeses that can also be crumbled, such as goat cheese and blue cheese. An out-of-the-box approach would be merchandising feta with Italian cheeses and ingredients to add a fresh flavor to pizzas, pastas and more,” says Hackett.
MEATS. Italian charcuterie covers a fundamental role in the Mediterranean diet since the consumption of high-quality meat provides important nutrients, according to Emanuela Bigi, marketing manager for Veroni USA, in Swedesboro, NJ. “We introduced brand-new products ranging from different types of Salami Chubs and the ready-to-serve sliced versions to Italian Rollini (the Italian word for rolls) paired with cheese this winter.”
The new Chubs range includes different types of salami including Milano, Parma, Truffle and Salame Calabrese. Italian Prosciutto or Salame Milano with Provolone cheese are the two combinations first-time featured in the company’s Rollini and are ideal as an Italian-style snack. Veroni has also restyled the packaging in its Enjoy AperiTime line. The line features imported Italian soppressata and salame paired with olives, provolone and almonds. The new rectangular trays and the new ingredient combinations represent the company’s effort to meet American tastes while offering an Italian aperitivo at home.
The next big thing in Mediterranean-style meats are those from Spain and Portugal, says Musco Food’s Belser. “We’ve been seeing a steady rise in sales of Serrano, Chorizo and Manchego in the past few years, and new Iberian items are popping up in nearly every food category these days.”
Veroni is one of the brands capitalizing on this trend by expanding its offerings with the Taste of Europe line, which includes the Spanish serrano and chorizo and was developed for the American market.
BUILD A MEDITERRANEAN DESTINATION
Olive and food bars plus cross merchandised displays equal excellent ways to create a Mediterranean destination in the deli.
“Offering a Mediterranean destination by having items in one place in the store drives excitement and increases basket size, as consumers will be more motivated to purchase additional items,” says Cedar’s Foods’ Tsakirellis.
Over the past six to 12 months, most olive and antipasti bars around the country have reopened to great fanfare, says FOODMatch’s Gross. “They continue to be the best way to get consumers engaged and interested in a full-service Mediterranean program. Bars allow for and encourage, product trial and sampling. As consumers cook more and experiment with new flavors, the self-serve bar is irreplaceable as a top profit-driver of any deli or specialty cheese program.”
Self-serve bars are a mainstay ripe to evolve with the trends.
“How about a Build-your-Own Charcuterie and Cheese board bar, for example?” says Musco Food’s Macalso. “Shoppers love an interactive moment when they shop. Thanks to shippers and off-shelf displays, or by using existing real estate such as the top of the case, retailers can co-merchandise the section with tarallis and crostinis (we recommend Puglia Sapori and Pan Ducale), jams and nuts, or ready-to-eat spreads such as Vantia Sicilian-Style Peperonata, which is packed with roasted peppers, raisins and pignoli nuts.”
Taking an expansive view of what Mediterranean cuisine is, add hummus to the deli or cold bar programs, recommends Datassential’s Kostyo. “Hummus scores well with consumers, continues to grow on menu, and can be cross utilized in a lot of applications. Plus, the toppings available on a cold or salad bar can also be used for customers to customize their own hummus at a mini hummus bar.”
Finally, the most successful deli partners take a dual approach to location, says DeLallo’s Pozzuto. “They are expanding Mediterranean sections throughout the deli, along with creating that unique destination through visual merchandising. Successful delis know how to inspire the consumer with pairing and entertaining ideas — this is done through thoughtful cross merchandising opportunities throughout the deli. We were excited to launch a brand new Mediterranean destination this past year for stores to easily create a space for both refrigerated and shelf-stable items for snacking and charcuterie purchases.”