Rise of Mediterranean Foods

Thanks to the popular diet and new products, the Mediterranean segment is at an all-time high

Keith Loria

Mediterranean-style foods continue to be some of the fastest growing items in the deli department, and much of this growth is rooted in trends that extend outside the grocery store, such as is in quick-serve restaurants, traditional media and social media.

“The Mediterranean Diet continues to be seen as the gold standard and was named best overall diet for the fourth year in a row by U.S. News and World Report,” says Nate Everett, brand manager for Tribe Mediterranean Foods, Taunton, MA. “It is this kind of high regard combined with a constant array of content shared on social media, such as viral videos and recipe posts, that are making the Mediterranean style of eating a mainstream sensation.”

Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for the Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA), notes overall the Mediterranean foods category is continuing to generate a lot of interest.

“We were seeing that going into the pandemic, and certainly during the pandemic, as well,” he says. “People were picking up a lot of sides and dips in the deli as a snack to complement a meal as people were eating at home more than ever.”

He adds that in the deli prepared category, gyros, pita sandwiches and wraps utilizing Mediterranean foods were very in vogue this past year, and are more popular than ever.

“A lot of people during this past year were looking to incorporate more health and wellness foods in their diet, and these products certainly satisfied that,” says Richard.

On the Market

Kontos Foods, Inc., Paterson, NJ, offers approximately 65 flatbreads in the supermarket, mostly found in the bread section, but also used at the front of the deli to make sandwiches and meals chock-full of Mediterranean ingredients.

“Mediterranean food is all the rage now,” says Warren Stoll, marketing director for the company. “If you went back 40 years, no one knew what Greek food was. Now everyone knows all about the different Mediterranean foods available, and people view it as healthy.”

Karen Toufayan, vice president of marketing and sales for Toufayan Bakeries, Inc., Ridgefield, NJ, says when she thinks about Mediterranean foods, she thinks of flavor.

“That could mean a smoky flavor, spicy, garlicy, and what people in the deli department are buzzing about is all these new flavors that people are gravitating towards,” she says.

That’s why Toufayan has upped its game with new flavors in recent years, adding different Mediterranean-style flatbreads—all naturally vegan—to its product mix, complementing the ingredients being used in the deli.

Giuliana Pozzuto, director of marketing for DeLallo, headquartered in Mt Pleasant, PA, says the company is experts in Mediterranean and Italian foods, so this is a segment where it shines.

The company offers a lineup of gourmet garnishes and complements that are made to merchandise alongside specialty cheeses, cured meats and the olive bars right in the deli—items like its olive tapenades, bruschettas, fruit spreads and crispy Italian Foccacia Toasts.

“The deli is a destination, inspiring customers and giving them everything they need to create epic charcuterie and cheese boards at home,” she says. “Our vast collection of olives and antipasti includes all of their favorites—from briny, buttery olives to spicy pickled peppers.”

As one of the most established hummus brands, Tribe has always been rooted in the Mediterranean style of eating. Recently, the company has expanded its offerings of Mediterranean-inspired items with the launch of its new Tribe Mezze Dips. These include three feta dips, a Tzatziki and a Mediterranean Layer Dip.

“The Red Pepper Feta Dip combines tangy, salty feta cheese; roasted red peppers; and traditional Greek seasonings for a taste that is distinct but versatile,” says Everett. “Our Roasted Garlic Feta Dip is a simple yet classic combination that will satisfy the taste buds of true garlic lovers. To round-out our feta offerings we also have a Spicy Tomato Feta Dip. We added green onions and a unique blend of seasonings so it is bursting with flavor and color.”

Additionally, Tribe’s Tzatziki is an original-style recipe with cucumber, garlic and dill made with Greek yogurt, and the company’s Mezze Layer Dip combines all the best flavors and ingredients into something truly unique.

“With smooth hummus on the bottom, Tzatziki in the middle and a tapenade of red peppers, tomatoes, olives and herbs on top, this item provides a mix of fresh flavor that is perfect for gatherings both large and small,” says Everett. “All items are certified kosher and made with clean ingredients free from artificial preservatives.”

The Mediterranean Diet

An increasing number of consumers are turning to the Mediterranean Diet style of eating for its diverse flavor offerings and nutritional completeness, without having to sacrifice on the taste and quality of their food.

“First and most importantly, Mediterranean foods are delicious,” says Pozzuto. “They are big, bold flavors and textures, and they certainly win for eye appeal. The Mediterranean diet features a lot of plant-based foods, also a current trend. A lot of these foods are easy to prepare—often eaten as snacking items, as salads with fresh produce and simple ingredients. Mediterranean foods have been praised for health benefits, as well. It’s a win-win… good and good for you. That doesn’t happen too often.”

Toufayan notes one only has to look at all the chains opening up catering to the Mediterranean food segment to see that people are gravitating towards this popular diet.

“The delis are responding to that trend,” she says.

Flavor Profile

Despite a shift towards more comfort food related items in the past year, Mediterranean items sold in delis are at the intersection of comfort, flavor exploration and health.

Consumers under 45 have been driving flavor exploration for the past several years, and although events of this past year have pushed many consumers to reach for familiar flavors of dips and spreads, Tribe felt there was room to make the mainstream more diverse, flavorful and unique.

“Tapping flavors that consumers are familiar with but are less represented in dips and spreads were some of the driving insights behind our new dips,” says Everett. “In the specialty cheese section, feta is seeing double-digit growth but currently there are few items involving dip/spread innovation.”

Charcuterie is hot right now, and Pozzuto says the trend is helping to drive the Mediterranean category.

“The word itself has come to mean more than just sliced cured meats,” she says. “Charcuterie is a style of eating, the art of sharing and entertaining with small bites. And, of course, Mediterranean foods are at the heart of that. It’s all about the bold and colorful flavors along with the eye-catching presentation of specialty cheeses, artisan meats, briny olives, pickled vegetables, spreads, crispy toasts… essentially, everything the deli has to offer.”

DeLallo sees consumers using olives and antipasti for more than just stand-alone snacking and entertaining, but as ready-to-use ingredients to upgrade their everyday recipes in the kitchen.

“This last year it’s no surprise that consumers are searching for new ways to hit the refresh button on their menus,” says Pozzuto. “Recent trends have shown more time spent cooking and with more adventurous ingredients and flavors. One of our most popular items recently (both in stores and on social media) is our Greek Feta Salad—a well-rounded antipasto that includes bite-sized cubes of feta cheese and a medley of pitted olives.”

Packaging Matters

Pozzuto notes that packaging says it all, and if you have a great product, your packaging should work to showcase that.

“The ultimate showcase, of course, is the bulk self-service olive bar,” she says. “Olive bars are opening back up daily, and DeLallo is ready to help retailers make that transition. While we offer a full lineup of Mediterranean items in bulk sizes, we also offer a collection of over 35 pre-packaged olive and antipasto items. These top-selling items are packaged in crystal clear containers to look like they were packed by hand, fresh in your deli. These are perfect for cross merchandising around the deli with complementary cheeses.”

For its new Tribe Mezze line, Tribe kept many of the same package design elements of its popular hummus items.

“The package portrays many of the same flavorful, clean and simple ingredients used in our hummus but we also incorporated additional white and blue design elements to signify the new Mezze line,” says Everett.

Marketing and Merchandising

With its new offerings, Tribe was looking to attract its current hummus consumer and extend the brand to new users in the dips, spreads and other deli sections.

“Depending on the retailer, you can find these items merchandised with our hummus items and in the specialty cheese section near other feta items,” says Everett. “To draw awareness to the new items, we focused on linking our digital advertising and couponing programs with in-store programs.”

According to the experts, there’s still huge untapped potential to further grow the Mediterranean segment in deli for both snacking and meal time occasions.

“There will be continued innovation in more familiar Mediterranean-style items and continued awareness of more novel items,” says Everett. “Both will combine to make this style of eating an even larger part of the American diet.”

One of the best pieces of advice Stoll can offer to supermarket delis looking to expand its audience is to merchandise a finished product in some way.

“People very often click when they see something complete, so if you show someone a finished sandwich with the ingredients inside, that’s helpful because it’s better than them having to use their imagination on what to prepare,” he says. “I’ve found that to be a great merchandising tactic. Stores can also show photos or images with recipes with the final product.”

Mediterranean foods have really stood the test of time. These foods cannot really be called a “diet” or “trend,” in the way that those things fade, but a style of eating that people will always love and so it will only continue to grow. DB


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