Carol M. Bareuther
Take a thin crisp wafer and break it in two. Hear the “crack”? Some food historians say it’s this sound that gave crackers their name. Others trace the term to a day in 1801, when Josiah Bent, a ship’s baker in Milton, MA, burnt a batch of bread. Its crackling sound as it charred inspired the moniker. Either way, it’s how crackers are eaten that makes them mighty basket-builders and register-ringers in the deli department.
“When consumers shop for crackers in the deli, they are looking for the best accompaniment for the cheeses, dips, spreads, or charcuterie they are purchasing. They want, simple, elegant crackers that complement the flavors of those toppings, can stand up to them, but also either add a texture component or new flavor dimension,” says Steve Lorenz, director of U.S. marketing for La Panzanella, a Tukwila, WA-manufacturer of an Italian flatbread-style cracker now made with extra virgin olive oil.
DELI VS. GROCERY
Some crackers are best suited for the grocery aisle, others for the deli. A key difference is knowing if the cracker is the hero or the sidekick, adds Lorenz.
“Most of the brands in the grocery aisle tend to be developed for snacking on their own, right out of the box,” he says. They are intended to be the hero and their flavors tend to be bolder and more defining of the product. Deli cracker brands should focus on being the sidekick, always asking, how do these crackers make the toppings better? The deli crackers can still have amazing other flavors and ingredients, but the end goal is always to make the topped cracker experience the best it can be.”
Cara Figgins, president of Partners, a tasteful choice company based in Des Moines, WA, agrees and adds, “Our smaller cut, stand-alone, snack crackers are better suited for the center store, while our larger hors d’oeuvre and flatbread crackers are perfect for the deli as they pair wonderfully and have an elegant aesthetic for entertaining. For example, our best-selling Partners Olive Oil & Sea Salt hors d’oeuvre cracker is featured in many prepacked fruit and cheese trays. We believe these crackers have sold so well over the years, because they have the ideal crispiness, thickness and texture, with just the right amount of salt to balance any pairing.”
Thought of another way, crackers best sold in the deli are those that are like a rug that ties a room together, according to David Payne, owner and general manager of Potter’s Crackers, in Fitchburg, WI.
“I think our best-selling cracker by far is our Classic White because it is a versatile, buttery, salty, cracker with a great crunch. People understand that it won’t distract from other options when it comes to pairing. It plays well with sweet and savory, it plays well with red wine, white wine, beer, and a wide array of beverage options, and it still stands out as a fresh, best-tasting white cracker,” he says.
GOOD FOR YOU & GOOD TASTING
Consumers are seeking cracker options that are on trend with the rest of their diet, as there is an increased focus on healthier eating, says Figgins. “Within the cracker category, we have noticed an uptick in alternative grain options and the incorporation of more fiber and nutrients, whether it’s through whole grains or superfoods, as well as an increase of plant-based offerings. Consumers are paying closer attention to what they put into their bodies, and we see this trend through the emphasis of clean labels and transparency of the ingredients.”
On the grain front, Venus Wafers released an Ancient Grain flavor under its CäPeachio’s brand in early 2023. The crackers feature a blend of wheat flour, brown flax seed, millet, spelt, wheat kamut, barley flakes, amaranth and quinoa along with onion and garlic powders and sea salt.
“All-natural, non-GMO, vegan and kosher are all big now for crackers, as are ingredient labels with just simple ingredients,” says James Anderko, vice president of sales for the Hingham, MA-headquartered company.
Organic milk and butter are key ingredients in Potter’s Crackers.
Gluten-free continues to be important to consumers seeking out deli crackers.
“However, today there is a trend toward the use of alternative flours, like almond or seed. The ingredients, flavors, and textures can be the primary driver to purchase, with gluten-free a wonderful added benefit of utilizing these new, innovative flours,” says La Panzanella’s Lorenz.
Anything that creates a unique cracker, from flavor to size and shape, makes it ideal for the deli.
In 2022, TH Foods, the Loves Park, IL-based manufacturer of the Crunchmaster brand, added Avocado Toast crackers to its line. The square-shaped, gluten-free crackers contain avocado. The four flavors, sold in 3.52-ounce bags, are Salt & Pepper, Guacamole, Chili Lime and Ultimate Everything.
“It’s a different take on a cracker,” says Braden Bennie, marketing category manager for retail and club brands. “We are selling all four flavors in the delis at Publix and Kroger stores.”
As for size and shape, a best-seller for Valley Lahvosh is its Heart Lahvosh as well as 15-inch Lahvosh.
“The 15-inch Lahvosh stands out because of its size and also its versatility; it can be topped with other ingredients and heated to create pizzas or a seasoned bread. People respond to the shape of our Heart Lahvosh crackers. For a lot of people, food is love so what’s better than a heart cracker to show that concept,” says Jenni Bonsignore, marketing manager for the Fresno, CA-headquartered baker.
The company also sells its Lahvosh in Star and Christmas Tree shapes to boost seasonal sales. Valley Lahvosh’s newest cracker, Sea Salt Minis, also works well as a soup and salad go-with cracker.
BASKET BUILDING IDEAS
Pairing crackers with other deli staples in displays and promotions is a winning way to build basket size. Creativity is key.
“I think the sky is the limit in terms of display,” says Potters Crackers’ Payne. “It depends if sales are running, or if there is an emphasis on a seasonal item, and if there are opportunities to pair a specific cheese with a specific flavor of cracker. The best displays I’ve seen are typically a destination close or on top of a cheese island, or creating displays out of wooden barrels or shelving that are highlighting a certain pairing or sale.”
Beyond cheese, there’s an infinite way to merchandise cracker and charcuterie pairings. TH Foods offers its Crunchmaster crackers in a four-shelf stand-up shipper unit. The side of each unit suggests shoppers “Create Your Own Crunchuterie,” with a QR code that leads to online recipe ideas. The units hold combinations of all Multi-Seed Original, Multi-Seed Rosemary & Olive Oil, Multi-Grain Sea Salt, and Avocado Toast Salt & Pepper. The Aperitivo Charcuterie Board recipe calls for Multi-Seed Rosemary & Olive Oil, with Manchego, Bocconcini, Pecorino and Brie cheese; Castelvetrano, Liguria or Cerignola olives; sweet cornichons; roasted red peppers; pesto and a balsamic reduction — potentially a 10-item basket from the deli.
“Similar to the little signs that are posted all over the wine shelves, we’d love to see more delis suggesting their favorite pairings with signage. Some delis are now offering classes focused on building charcuterie platters. Sampling, whether active or passive, can also be a great way to promote pairings, especially those items that customers might not consider, such as pairing your freshly made spinach dip with a cracker instead of bread,” suggests Partners’ Figgins.
Price promotions, buy-one-get-one deals, and partnerships with go-with products are all ways to spur sales of crackers and complementary items.
“I think the thing that binds holidays and seasonal themes is entertaining. It’s a time when shoppers like to go a little ‘extra’ as hosts or even guests. Why limit this? Promote crackers for all occasions like birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, football watch parties, picnics and any opportunities throughout the year that bring families and friends together,” suggests Payne.