Give Deli Shoppers a Taste of Asia

Carol M. Bareuther

Asian food continues to be one of the hottest growing categories across the US and is becoming a staple in the deli.

Shoppers fancying the flavors of Asia can find something to satisfy their cravings in most supermarket delis today. This spans coast to coast.

Headquartered in Scarborough, ME, over half of the 189 Hannaford supermarket locations feature franchised sushi kiosks. The Creamy Shaggy Dog, a combo of tempura shrimp, surimi salad, avocado, wasabi mayo, and sushi sauce dusted with parsley flakes, is among the newest offerings. Basic, combo, and specialty rolls are on the menu along with chicken, pork and veggie dumplings.

The prepared foods departments at the 100-plus Rochester, NY-based Wegman’s Food Market, boasts an Asian hot bar with selections such as pepper steak, vegetable lo mein, and broccoli with mushrooms and dumplings, among other items.


Cincinnati, OH-headquartered Kroger, with 2,750 stores, sells more than 40 million pieces of sushi in a typical year, according to an August 2023 article in the New York Times.

Schnucks, a 111-store chain based in St. Louis, MO, partnered with a local restaurant, Sister Sister Kitchen, to carry a line of grab-and-go Asian appetizers and entrees in-store. This includes egg rolls, potstickers, General Tso’s chicken and Singapore noodles.

On the West Coast, Gelson’s, a 28-store chain based in Encino, CA, offers sushi as part of its Gelson’s Kitchen Ready to Eat Meal Delivery via DoorDash. In addition to several selections of made-in-house sushi, a spicy tuna bowl, seaweed salad and chicken potstickers are on the menu.


The trends in Asian food resonate across America, according to Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development for Don’s Prepared Foods, in Schwenksville, PA. “This comes as cities become more diverse and consumers see value in Asian flavors, health benefits and freshness.”

Twenty-seven percent of consumers who visit a traditional supermarket at least once every couple of weeks say they are interested in purchasing sushi from the prepared foods section of their grocery store. Younger consumers are very interested in purchasing sushi from the deli, i.e., 47% of Gen Z and 42% of millennial consumers, according to the recent Asian Cuisine Inspiration Report created by Claire Conaghan, associate director and trendologist at Datassential, a food and beverage market research firm based in Chicago, IL.

“Driving the demand for sushi are consumers looking for healthier options in the ready-to-eat space. They want products produced with all-natural ingredients. Consumers are more educated, they are reading labels and avoiding products produced with artificial food colors and dyes. All the seafood we use in our program is 100% sustainable and has been since 2016,” says Tracey Schram, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Fe Spring, CA-headquartered FujiSan Franchising Corp. and Fuji Food Products Inc., which operates chef-manned sushi kiosks in retailers nationwide.


Meanwhile, 39% of regular supermarket shoppers say they are interested in purchasing Asian dishes from the prepared foods section of their grocery store. Again, younger consumers are very interested in purchasing Asian dishes from the deli (57% of Gen Z and 55% of millennial consumers, based on Datassential data).

“The sushi and Asian foods category are continually expanding beyond now-familiar Chinese, Japanese, and Thai dishes into trends from other Asian countries like Vietnamese, Korean and regional Chinese that were previously unfamiliar to U.S. consumers,” says Datassential’s Conaghan.

“The sushi and Asian foods category are continually expanding beyond now-familiar Chinese, Japanese, and Thai dishes into trends from other Asian countries like Vietnamese, Korean and regional Chinese that were previously unfamiliar to U.S. consumers.”

— Claire Conaghan, Datassential, Chicago, IL

Consumers are increasingly interested in diverse and adventurous flavor profiles and authentic food experiences, agrees Dan Beem, chief executive officer of Charlotte, NC-based Hissho Sushi, which offers retail partners deli counter, grab-and-go kiosk and commissary-based sushi programs. “We offer a wide range of flavors and ingredients to tap into this trend, from traditional options to vegetarian and fusion flavors.”


Sushi sales at retail locations across the U.S. rose 3.8% by value to $2.58 billion as of the 52 weeks ending May 13, 2023, based on Nielsen data provided by Idaho Falls, ID-headquartered Category Partners.

“Staple items in a sushi case are California Roll, Spicy California Roll, California Crunch Roll, Cucumber Avocado Roll, Philadelphia Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll and Rainbow Roll. Consumers buy with their eyes and they like a variety of options and a colorful sushi case,” says Fuji Food Products’ Schram. “Our best-selling items are our combination trays. Consumers are gravitating to items that offer a variety of options they can share.”

Snowfox-brand sushi, sold in over 1,300 full-service sushi kiosks at retailers in 38 states, and owned and operated by JFE Franchising Inc., in Houston, TX, provides offerings structured around six core categories: Appetizers, Combo Menu/Party Tray, Custom Items/PB Sauces, Basic/Fully Cooked Rolls, Nigiri/Specialty Raw Rolls and Crunch Rolls/Specialty Rolls.

“This framework helps customers easily identify the different types of sushi we offer, and returning guests can quickly locate their favorite products at our kiosk,” says Adam Kopec, account management associate. “We also understand every partner we work with has a wide range of store footprints, and we work closely to meet store guidelines while providing the maximum variety of products.”

Snowfox has recently introduced its Lox Roll, which is a sushi form of the classic Lox Bagel.

Hissho Sushi has introduced four new menu items in the last year. First are the Wow Bao heat and serve appetizers, including Bao, Potstickers, Eggrolls and Rangoons. Secondly, Tuna & Avocado, Krispy Krab, and Crunchy Inari Tofu Bowls served as rolls in a bowl format. Third is the Bahn Mi-Inspired BBQ Roll made with Jack Daniel’s Pulled Pork, and fourth is the Crunchy Hatch Chile Tuna Roll that taps into the Hatch Chile season in the late summer and early fall.


“While we don’t capture this in the supermarket deli, the fastest growing Asian appetizers on menus (ranked by four-year growth) include coconut shrimp, tom yum, shrimp dumplings, chicken dumplings, and shrimp rolls. Korean barbecue is also a noteworthy flavor. It is the third-fastest growing flavor of wings. In general, the term Korean barbecue has grown +26% on menus over the last four years,” says Datassential’s Conaghan.

Korean barbecue is a flavor in two of the best-selling Asian side and salad dishes by Don’s Prepared Foods. One is Korean BBQ Green Beans — fresh beans tossed in seasoned sauces that include Gochujang, a beloved spice blend in Korea. The second is Korean BBQ-Style Chick’n Bowl, plant-based chicken with veggies and brown rice tossed in a Korean barbecue-style sauce.

While deli prepared is up 5.9% year-over-year, according to Madison, WI-headquartered International Deli Dairy Bakery Association’s What’s in Store 2024, deli entrees are the largest subcategory up 5.2%.


“We are seeing a similar growth pattern with our deli business. Additionally, we see success in suppliers manufacturing multiple types of cuisine, including Asian. Brand partners like Kevin’s Natural Foods, have captured the trend of ‘Better for You’ with Paleo and Keto options that are also Asian inspired,” says Megan Charron, deli and food service category manager for KeHE Distributors LLC, in Naperville, IL.

Entrée examples from the Stockton, CA-located Kevin’s include Korean BBQ-Style Chicken, Thai-Style Coconut Chicken and Mongolian Beef.


The best way to highlight sushi products is through a fully merchandised sushi case, recommends Hissho Sushi’s Beem. “Our dedicated franchisees ensure that the case is stocked with our high-quality sushi offerings every day. This visually appealing display not only attracts customers with its freshness, but also highlights the variety and quality of our sushi selections.”

The company also offers a range of in-store marketing assets to help drive traffic to the sushi case. This includes A-frame posters strategically placed at entry points and high-traffic areas within the store. Additionally, utilizing the in-store announcement system to share information about new products and promotional items can further engage customers and encourage them to explore the sushi section.
Showmanship is a unique merchandising tool for sushi.

“We sell sushi, not just make sushi,” adds Snowfox/JFE Franchising’s Kopec. “This means that we want customers to know we have an active chef who makes the product fresh daily. We are a show business, and there’s no better way to show our product than by making it fresh every day, engaging in customer interaction, and actively sampling for new and recurring guests to try tried and true favorites or new and exciting innovations.”

“We also have our own PB sauces, Ramune drinks (Japanese soda), and other Asian-oriented products at our kiosks that our retail partners can use for cross-selling opportunities surrounding our sushi products,” adds Kopec.

For Asian dishes, hot and cold bars make excellent merchandisers.

“Our Korean BBQ-Style Chick’n Bowl can be served on a cold bar or hot bar, while Orange Ginger Couscous, Asian Noodle, and Korean BBQ Green Beans are excellent for a hot bar as they heat well and take on a softer texture when warm,” says Don’s Prepared Foods’ Cappelli.

Creative promotions can boost sales.

“We coordinate promotional schedules with our retail partners that offer several types of promotions that align with their schedule. Alternatively, we present the promotions to our partners for their approval. For example, we might run a Superbowl or Valentine’s Day promotion, which could include things like seasonal-themed signage, video ads, different packaging, sales price reduction, or percentage reduction,” says Kopec.

Looking ahead, retail supermarket operators can be best prepared to capitalize on the future by taking cues from culinary mega trends and incorporating them into their products in approachable ways, says Datassential’s Conaghan.

“For instance, in the trend for handhelds, something like a ‘banh mi’ might be intimidating to some shoppers unfamiliar with global cuisine. However, the same sandwich marketed as something like a ‘spicy Vietnamese chicken sandwich’ is not only familiar but offers an exciting twist in an approachable manner,” Conaghan adds.


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