Profit from the Proper Pairings

Tom Gresham

Cross merchandising in retail educates consumers and sharpens sales efforts in the deli.

Successful retailers understand how consumers shop. They understand their customers, including how those customers navigate their stores and how they select and purchase products. And they sell to them based on that understanding.

In the past, a customer-centric focus for retailers meant merchandising according to internal category hierarchy, rather than consumers’ actual shopping habits, according to Tom Orlando, national sales director for Conroy Foods, based in Pittsburgh. Today, partly through prioritizing cross merchandising in retail, the focus is more on how consumers shop.

Does that mean breads, rolls and condiment options will be featured right next to the deli? No, Orlando says, but through cross merchandising, retailers — in collaboration with suppliers — “can provide simple, creative and quite possibly unique pairings of products to fit the consumer demand.”

“The entire premise of [cross merchandising] is one of simplicity,” Orlando says. “When you think about the practice, it is such common sense to place tertiary-use products close to primary-driver purchase items. Everyone is time starved when shopping (read delivery and curbside pick-up). If we make the trip as convenient and satisfying, we all win.”

Cross merchandising depends on matching products from different categories and departments to create displays and other arrangements that catch consumers’ attention and inspire them to purchase the products. When successful, cross merchandising can drive sales for multiple products in the grocery deli — not only in the moment with an impulse buy but leading consumers to recognize new pairings of products and leading to future sales, too. In today’s deli shopping environment, cross merchandising can be an especially beneficial tactic that produces strong results.

Educating the Customer while cross merchandising in retail

Jim Anderko, vice president of sales and marketing for Hingham, MA-based Venus Wafers, says one of cross merchandising’s central benefits is that it can help manufacturers and retailers educate consumers about how to use products. Through suggested pairings, “consumers can learn how to use the product,” he says. Most consumers appreciate suggestions, such as what spreads and crackers to pair together or how to create a cheeseboard with an interesting mix of options.

“Cross merchandising really is a great benefit, because you can capture a person’s interest by helping them out,” Anderko says.

Anderko says cross merchandising can be particularly helpful when there is a person in the deli area providing samples and giving consumers the opportunity to taste combinations of products.

“People will be a bit more open to trying and exploring some products when there is someone there to help them and offer it to them,” Anderko says. “We’re in the people business. When you’ve got somebody there pushing a combination, you’re going to get more bang for your buck with the results.”

Popular, best-selling products that customers gravitate toward can help bring attention to other underperforming products that customers may not have otherwise considered or recognized as a fitting pairing with a well-known product. New products that are first being introduced to customers can particularly benefit from cross merchandising, especially with sampling, because of the educational component of it, Anderko says.

“It’s just so important to give people ideas about how to use your stuff,” Anderko says.

Personalized service from store team members with expertise can go a long way toward cross merchandising being successful, Anderko says. He recalls a deli worker at a store in North Carolina that he frequented who always seemed to have the right cheese recommendations for customers — along with the crackers or bottle of wine that would pair best with it.

It is important for team members participating in active cross merchandising to be knowledgeable about the products so that they can make the best recommendations to consumers and share the kind of advice and insight that will be useful to them, Anderko says. Background on the companies that make the products and their mission and history also can help build connections for the consumers that pay off.

If the team member is simply handing a sample to passing consumers, it won’t have the same impact, Anderko says. Passive demos are not nearly as effective as active ones that give consumers ideas and guidance. In addition, shoppers should be able to easily transition from sampling the products to buying them — rather than being asked to then go find them elsewhere on the shelves.

Anderko says sampling and personal interactions were cut back in stores during the pandemic, but he increasingly is seeing more activity in that area — leading to more active selling with a cross merchandising angle.

“It can be very effective in getting more items in that cart,” Anderko says.

Cross merchandising in retail execution

Pairing the right items can be a matter of research and data-based understanding of what will click with customers, but it also can be based on the expertise and understanding of the team members at retailers and suppliers, including their understanding of consumers and what products will “pop” for them when paired together. Social media can be used in cross merchandising to complement in-store efforts through recipes and compelling images.

Orlando says cross merchandising does not need to be complicated.

“You just need to provide a solution for the consumer — you don’t need to overwhelm them with expensive fixtures, because floor space is always an issue,” Orlando says. “We have a cardboard shipper with themed header cards. For example, our football-themed ‘Beano’s Deli Condiments Have All The Right Moves For Your Tailgate Party’ allows the consumer to pick up a bottle of each of the four choices for their tailgate purchase in the deli.”

Cross merchandising can originate in a variety of ways — from suppliers suggesting pairings or tie-ins to retailers identifying them on their own. Orlando says that transparency and the sharing of information can benefit both manufacturers and retailers to generate productive cross merchandising efforts.

“If a retailer were to share promotional plans for the deli department with manufacturers that don’t directly compete with the promoted products, then these manufacturers would be better equipped to pair the product for a great selling opportunity,” Orlando says. “For example, if a retailer was planning on promoting its naan breads or pizza dough, then we could cross merchandise our white pizza sauces, and the consumer wins by presenting such a natural pairing.”

Orlando notes that increasingly retailers have a pre-packed deli area for the consumer who does not want to wait in line, making for a straightforward cross merchandising opportunity.

“These consumers grab some pre-sliced cheese, ham, maybe turkey, and right above the grab-and-go case you have a selection of condiments that this consumer will also grab and their purchase decision is done,” Orlando says.

Key to successful cross merchandising is imagining the consumer and their needs and preferences. Simple convenience can be critical. Among cross merchandising’s strengths is that it can streamline the shopping experience.

“The busy consumer who needs to make school lunches for their children selects the different lunch meats and cheeses; right there while they are waiting for their deli order, we position our condiments. If there are other products, such as bread, rolls or flatbreads, then the consumer is able to make a complete occasion fulfillment of their need,” Orlando says.

Creative presentations can go a long way toward making the complementary items seem appealing and drawing the connections between them in an attractive way. If the presentation fails to underline that connection for consumers, then it will just confuse the shopper and push them away from the products.

For manufacturers and retailers, some pairings can be simple and obvious, but taking the time to consider a range of possibilities can yield highly successful cross merchandising efforts that might have gone overlooked. Pairings don’t have to be as simple as two products that can be enjoyed together — they also can share thematic or seasonal characteristics.

“You have to expand on your pairings paradigm and stretch your preferences when thinking about creative cross merchandising opportunities,” Orlando says. “For example, having our Beano’s Honey Mustard on display by the frozen chicken nuggets or having a display of Beano’s Horseradish sauce by the meat case when beef is on sale. With shelf-stable condiments, we are able to be placed anywhere in the store. Our balsamic dressing merchandised by the bagged salads gave the consumer the option of saving a trip to the salad dressings area and provided an easy placement opportunity.”

When a cross merchandising pairing proves to be successful at one retailer, suppliers then have the opportunity to bring evidence-based suggestions to their retailer partners for them to consider similar cross merchandising efforts.

Some cross merchandising efforts include incentives to encourage shoppers to make an additional purchase, and some will bundle complementary items to bolster sales.

A Natural Environment

Food providers can take steps to ensure that products are natural fits for cross merchandising and give retailers options.

“All of our products are packaged in shelf-ready packaging, and our bottles have a unique flip-top applicator,” Orlando says. “Our packaging is convenient for the consumer to enjoy anywhere — on a picnic, at dinner tables, as a part of tailgate events … offering the consumer a few more twists to the regular condiments and developing innovative unique flavors that are exclusive to their program creates an innovative offering to differentiate their deli offerings from their competition. We also developed a Deli Condiment Shipper Program, which features seasonal display cards to customize and capture the deli or seasonal theme that the retailer is targeting. We have six header cards depicting seasonal themes, and all of these headers are interchangeable on the shipper base. Depending upon the holiday or event, we have a themed header card and the product mix to match. For example, our Summer Sizzle shipper features four flavors that all have a little heat and add a little sizzle to your sandwich.”

The deli is a particularly fruitful area for cross merchandising, but the natural range of opportunities also can create challenges to standing out in a busy field.

“The deli has always worked well for us, and our condiments are such a natural item to pair with their lunchmeat and other deli item purchases,” Orlando says. “We have a great track record and have been in business long enough that our loyal customer base specifically looks for our product within the deli. One challenge is where the product is merchandised, if a store is ‘crowded with merchandise,’ then your product could be lost to the traffic pattern in the sense of being far away from impulse purchases.”

Orlando notes that grocery aisles have uniformly rigid shelving and are limited in their ability to call out new products other than with drop-down tags or shelf hooks, but the deli has more flexibility and room for creativity.

“The deli, in addition to a few set permanent island fixtures, truly allows the ability to have free-standing racks and create pairings of complementary items,” Orlando says. “If you step back and think about it — where else can you obtain an array of meats, cheeses, condiments, breads and wraps all in one area of the store?”


Sign up to get the latest news in retail deli, including prepared foods, foodservice and specialty cheese markets from Deli Business Magazine...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.