Putting Consumer Needs First

jim prevor
Jim Prevor

In a wildly inflationary time, people will be searching for economies — and the supermarket deli has the perfect position.

Now is the perfect time for supermarket delis to shine. With more consumers eating at home, there is no better way to save on ingredients, and there’s no better place for them to not only purchase prepared foods, but to enjoy a supermarket’s service, atmosphere, etc.

Yet, the truth is that very few supermarkets do a good job of marketing the deli operation. Of course, there are superstar retailers, such as Wegmans. The Rochester, NY-based company recently opened a new store in Alexandria, VA, its 107th store.

OK, not every supermarket can be a Wegmans. Yet every deli can market itself as an answer to consumer needs. And every store should.

The key is to make a recognition that the world has changed. Maybe the new clientele is the con Sumer working from home. They may run out for lunch or they may want to have delivery or they may prepare it themselves. But whatever is happening, retailers need to address this new reality and market to the opportunities.


How many supermarket delis are offering a ‘Working from Home Club, ” where consumers can get a variety of flavors and meals at a package price? How about discounted delivery once a week if you buy the rest of the week’s lunch when you are at the store? How about buy dinner for your family and get a free lunch’ ? There are so many options.

For those stores that have cafes or places people can eat, how about this: In an office, people have colleagues to eat lunch with. Maybe out in the suburbs, people are isolated, so why not set up a “Lunch Club,” where people of similar profession or jobs can have a monthly lunch and eat together while “talking shop”? Furthermore, why can’t the deli sell the lunch picnic-basket style and let people eat in a park or alternate visits to homes of “group members” ?

Maybe a more health-oriented approach… How about the deli selling a complete day of foods — lunch, snacks, dinner — for the many singles living in urban areas who often work diligently and don’t want to be distracted and are also focused on health and fitness?

Successfully working from home for extended periods actually requires a different approach than simply sheltering during a pandemic. It requires a focus on health, on intellectual stimulation, on social engagement and much more.

All too many supermarkets have weak deli operations because these operations focus on selling product, not solving consumer problems. This is a moment, post-pandemic during the inflationary surge, that will lead to a new future in which deli operations can, and should, redefine themselves.


There are large operational issues. Many deli directors are so consumed with keeping their stores staffed, they scarcely have time to reimagine the department. Of course, though, the issue of service is core to what will happen to the supermarket deli.

Walmart has held on to its service deli. But one wonders how much longer it will do so. with concepts such as Amazon Go focused on reducing manpower needs — and, indeed, it is likely that store front-ends, typically around a third of all store labor hours, will gradually be mechanized — each banner will soon have to make a choice. I supermarkets go the low labor, self-service, route, or will they stay with the high-labor, personal interaction concept?

Will supermarkets still have a chef on the floor, where the prepared food is highly customized, or will the focus be on standardization and the best price point? There is no one right approach. There is room for both in the world, but dithering, failing to self-define, is almost certain to be a loser.

Supply chains have been failing, vulnerable to interruptions in global trade, transportation and more. How do we build resiliency into the supply chain backing up the deli of the next decade?

The physical store seems increasingly likely to become detached from delivery services. Giants such as Kroger are moving in force into states, such as Florida, where they have few if any stores. Wegmans, and many others, charge a premium for delivery to cover the cost of shopping, packing and delivery. But is that the future?

Maybe delivery done out of less expensive warehouse-type facilities, avoiding the cost of unpacking, putting product on display and the shrink that necessarily comes from spoilage and pilferage, means that delivery services can offer product at lower prices. Plus, perhaps consolidated shopping from large warehouses means product will almost always be in stock, as opposed to shopping from random stores where desired items are often missing?

We can all rejoice that the giant IDDBA trade show is back, post-pandemic, but the opportunity is to build the distribution and marketing channels that will define a new post-pandemic era of success. Now is the time to re-evaluate the deli — broadly and wisely.    DB

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