Building a Bundle

Five ways to build deli sales by cross merchandising.

Carol M. Bareuther

Peanut butter next to jelly on the grocery shelf is a no-brainer sales opportunity. After all, it’s the rare person who buys one without the other, so putting both side by side is two sales guaranteed. Ditto in the deli. Breads and rolls on a knee-knocker display in front of the meat and cheese case is a natural combo that inspires basket building by impulse sales. The same is true for selling rotisserie chicken bundled with a choice of sides, thus turning an entrée purchase into a whole meal. There are many tried-and-true ways to successfully cross merchandise in the deli.

The idea of cross merchandising, or cross promotion as the broader term, is to lift sales of both products and build retailer loyalty,” says Jonna Parker, principal, Fresh Center of Excellence, at Chicago-headquartered market research firm, IRI, Inc.

While broad nationally representative studies showing an exact percentage of sales increase attributed to cross merchandising aren’t available, Parker adds, “In my experience, I’ve rarely seen a well thought out cross promotion not make a lift. In that exception, the problem was purely in execution. Cross promotion does indeed move the needle to some degree.”

To maximize the potential of this ages-old selling technique, it’s also important to capitalize on 21st-century consumers eating and meal prep habits, especially those accelerated by the pandemic. Here are three ways to do both:


Simple intuitive pairings that remind shoppers of perfect go-withs are effective, according to Wendy Kado, director of sales for Silver Spring Foods, in Eau Claire, WI. “You can influence the consumers during a decision-making point in their shopping experience. For example, they may have only visited the deli to pick up meat. If you have condiments in that area, they are likely to pick one up, even if it was not on their list. We recommend displaying our products on cases directly above the items they pair with. We also use an eye-catching shipper with complementary header cards.

The company has newly launched a 9.5-ounce bottle of yellow mustard to complement its specialty mustard line, which includes Sweet ‘n Hot Honey, Dill and Chipotle. It also sells a six-item line of prepared horseradish products, from traditional that pairs with roast beef to one flavored with cranberries ideal for smoked turkey.

“New Year’s, Passover and Easter are the biggest horseradish holidays, as many meals include horseradish as an ingredient or condiment,” says Dave Daltry, Silver Spring Foods’ regional sales manager.

One of the most effective ways Effie’s Homemade, a biscuit maker based in Hyde Park, MA, has partnered with major retailers is in a ‘1, 2, 3’ cross merchandising promotion. The company has invested in 8×11-inch card-type signs that call out a suggested pairing. Examples have included Effie’s Pecan Biscuits with red wine cheddar and a sour cherry spread and Effie’s Oat Cakes with a creamy garlic herb cheese spread and quince paste. The result, according to co-owner, Joan MacIsaac, sales of all three products go up. In fact, it is not uncommon for all three to sell out on the day of the promotion.

The company also offers retailers recipe cards for displays and table tent cards that can sit a-top cases that give examples of what to pair with each of Effie’s biscuits, including its three new flavors: ginger, almond with cardamon, and walnut with cranberry and fennel.

“The ginger biscuits have chewy pieces of crystallized ginger in them and go well with mascarpone and lemon or orange curd. For the almond, pair with an aged Gouda, blue cheese, chocolate or orange marmalade. A buttery Brie and spicy red wine are perfect with the walnut,” says MacIsaac.


In theory, cross merchandising can inspire and stimulate impulse purchasing that builds velocities and increases basket size, says Denise LaBrie, sales team lead at the Tillamook County Creamery Association, in Tillamook, OR. “For example, consumers buy produce, meat, crackers, bread, beverages and other dry grocery items regularly when specialty cheese is in the basket.”

Cross merchandising can be focused on pairings or commonality, according to Rebekah Baker, Tillamook’s regional sales manager. “For our Maker’s Reserve vintage aged cheddar portfolio, my favorite way to cross merchandise is to add a couple of bottles of a matching vintage of wine or whiskey next to the cheese in the cheese case. It makes for an instant pairing suggestion and an easy entertaining solution for the shopper. I’ve worked with other Oregon-based companies to create joint promotions and displays at retailers that feature the state’s companies and complementary products such as cheese, jam and charcuterie.”

Multi-ingredient charcuterie platters and cheese boards are trendy now, especially with more small group gatherings at home. Educating shoppers on how to build their own is an ideal way to multiply deli register rings.

“People want ideas—what type of cheese, meats, spreads, olives and crackers go together,” says James Anderko, vice president of sales and marketing for Venus Wafers, Inc., in Hingham, MA, which last year introduced its new Mariner-brand Mini Flatbreads in sea salt sourdough, everything and sesame flavors. “They (customers) are afraid they’re going to do it wrong. At the same time, everyone has been eating at home for so long that this is a way to add a little fun. As is done for meal kits, we suggest merchandising these items together in an end cap or pre-assembling and offering charcuterie platters ready-made with a box of our crackers with them.”

Two new products that are equally at home on crudité, antipasto and charcuterie platters as they are with entrées and sandwiches is the Pickled Medley and Hot Vegetable Medley launched last year by Farm Ridge Foods, LLC

“We’ve been in the fresh pickle business and decided to take it to the next level by creating blends of pickled vegetables such as cauliflower, cucumber, carrots, celery, red pepper and green onion,” says Ron Loeb, president of the Islandia, NY-headquartered company. “We’re shipping both products in 24-ounce containers. The visual on both makes them pop off the shelf. The flavor especially on the Hot Vegetable Medley offers a nice spicy kick. Plus, both are good-for-you products.”

Seasonality is a tremendous theme for basket building, as well.

“We provide beverage, sweet, savory and cheese board pairing suggestions for each of our specialty cheeses. I’ve seen retailers create feature holiday displays using those suggestions and the signage that goes along with them. For example, we recommend pairing milk chocolate with our Maker’s Reserve 2010 vintage. One retailer created hostess gifts by wrapping the cheese and the chocolate together,” says Tillamook’s Baker.


Consumers are suffering from meal prep and meal idea fatigue, according to Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development for Don’s Prepared Foods, in Schwenksville, PA. Robust cross merchandising with products that offer on-trend concepts and flavors combine to provide customers with meal solutions and retailers with strong sales.”

The company has introduced five new ready-to-eat Better Bowls in the last few years. Three are based around chicken, such as the Honey Sriracha Chicken Bowl, and two are vegetarian, like the Mexican Style Chorizo and Rice Bowl, made with plant-based chorizo. Of the latter, Cappelli suggests cross merchandising with salad and bread.

“We’re seeing a re-opening of salad bars in some areas, but instead of bulk product, the bar is being used as a merchandiser for a pre-packed product like bowls, salads, dips and more. The mix of products, the display location such as in the front of the deli or store, and signage that calls out what to pick up for lunch or dinner are how deli operators can plant seeds in shoppers’ minds for new meal ideas. It doesn’t even have to have bundled pricing. Just display everything together,” says Cappelli.

The pandemic has not only increased for grab-and-go items from the supermarket but also has caused a boom in multi-compartment containers since hot and cold buffets have shut down or re-opened as pre-pack only, according to Kali Kinziger, associate product manager with the Madison, WI-headquartered Placon Corp. “A multi-compartment container enables consumers to get a single-serving meal or snack with variety instead of buying multiple separate containers and then having to mix things together.”

The company’s newest addition to its multi-compartment product offering is its Crystal Seal reFresh Parfait Cups. These cups are recyclable, crystal clear and can mix and match each base and insert tray while making the food inside the star. Insert trays fit securely inside each base so that wet and dry ingredients can remain separated and mixed in later. The line offers an 8-ounce or 12-ounce size base that comes with a flat, dome or pedestal lid option. The base fits securely into a standard car cup holder.


The biggest barrier to cross merchandising is that it’s not consumer-centric, according to IRI’s Parker. “This is true for two reasons. First, most retailers think of cross merchandising as within one department or with one product. However, most cross promotions really should span to many departments in the store. Secondly, the temperature state and shelf life constraints of the products often create logistics problems in displaying them together. That said, the popularity of cross merchandising and interest by retailers and consumers alike has never been stronger, especially as more meals are now being eaten at home.”

Parker suggests taking cross merchandising cues from unlikely places such as non-food departments and online retailers. For example, she describes a promotion where shoppers were told if they bought five hair care products, they would receive a certain dollar discount at the checkout. Similarly, instead of a bundled meal deal in the deli, consumers could be incentivized to shop multiple aisles picking up the anchor item of deli rotisserie chicken as well as bagged salad from produce, bread from the bakery, salad dressing from grocery and a beverage from the beverage aisle to receive a, for example, $5 discount at the checkout. Similarly, when shopping for clothing, books or other products online, there are often recommendations for similar or complementary products that pop up on the page. Not so with most supermarkets yet, but the potential is there be it cross merchandised items, usage suggestions and/or recipes.“Looking ahead, to reach young consumers, target new buyers and build double- and triple-digit basket sizes among shoppers, I think retailers need to think beyond the intuitive and myopic and think about cross promotions differently both in-store and online,” Parker says. DB


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