Helping Deli Customers Discover New Cultures

jim prevor
Jim Prevor

On a recent business trip to a food event in Spain, I was reminded of the role that culture plays in food. To
start with, in Europe, there is simply more food and drink options to choose from. Of course, at U.S. foods shows, a lot of food is distributed, but this is typically vendors providing their own foods for sampling – so hot dog companies give out hot dogs, pizza companies give out pizza, and salad companies salad, etc.
In contrast, the trade show experience in Europe is often about hospitality. Sometimes you get to see
a person slicing Iberico ham right off the bone in the booth – though the company does not sell ham! I sit down and they bring wine, olives, the ham and many other foods. The significance is that the culture supports and demands this type of offering, and the culture in American simply does not.
One supposes that, for many, the role of the supermarket is not to change consumption habits, but to
serve the current trends. So, if back in the day pickle and pimento loaf and olive loaf sold, then supermarkets carried the product. If such products fell out of favor over time, many supermarkets would drop the items. Writing at food and pop culture website, The Takeout, Lauren Harkawick raised this question:

What Will Happen to Our Endangered Deli Meats?
The North American Meat Institute told me the organization does not have sales numbers on pickle and
pimiento loaf, nor any of the detailed data I was looking for. It was suggested I reach out to market researcher Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics, LLC. The information she provided only compounded my fears for pickle and pimiento loaf ’s fate.

Like NAMI, Roerink said she didn’t have as specific of data as I was asking for (what, no one studiously
tracks the performance of pickle and pimiento loaf?), but she did say that younger people’s deli meat habits are different from those of their elder counterparts.
“Younger folks aren’t big on using service counters,” said Roerink. “They are not big on using the meat
counter or any counter. They prefer self-serve and often customization through an app or kiosk.”
However, Roerink said, engagement in deli meat— especially through premium sandwiches and wraps—is
high. So, it’s not that deli meats aren’t being consumed, but younger people may be less inclined to go to the deli counter and order them. They’d prefer to eat them on a sandwich that’s already been made, customized to their liking.
For what it’s worth, deli meat sales overall are trending down, but it’s unclear whether that’s related to the
cost of groceries or a general distaste. A report from 210 Analytics and marketing firm IRI analyzed grocery sales in June 2022 and found that although the dollars spent on deli meat in June—$645 million nationwide—were higher than a year ago, the increase was due to inflation, not higher sales.
“Both units and pounds were down more than -7% when compared to the same weeks in 2021 due to inflation of +16%,” says the report. Ever ordered a pickle and pimiento loaf sandwich at a deli?
Here’s where we get into hypothesis country, because as I’ve said, and as experts have said to me, there aren’t solid numbers on pickle and pimiento loaf. But here’s my theory: If younger folks are most boisterously engaging with deli meat through prepared sandwiches, the deli meats that will survive the decades to come are the ones that are in those sandwiches. So, I looked at many, many deli menus. There were a whole lot of salami, ham, turkey, chicken, and pepperoni offerings. Even a bologna or two. What I didn’t find was a single prepared sandwich that contained any pickle and pimiento loaf or olive loaf.
The piece goes on:
Roerink did say that some retailers are using marketing approaches that label some foods as “old school”
to try to get younger people engaged, and it has worked well. Vintage clothes are in, why not vintage meats? Many of these products have their origin in efforts to provide low-cost deli meats to people unwilling or unable to buy roast beef and turkey. One wonders if, with the threat of a recession, fear of high energy prices and even war, there might be renewed interest in low-cost options.
In any case, whatever the future, with passive purchases increasingly moving online, there probably is a need and an opportunity for supermarkets to not merely serve the consumer, but help the consumer to discover better products, more interesting products, better pricing options and more.
After all, eating is closely tied to culture, and cultures evolve – so that is an opportunity to help people eat more healthy, more economically and more joyfully.

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