Tailgates Are a Major Eating Event

Bob Johnson

The deli can score with foods that add quality.

Tailgates in parking lots outside football stadiums have become major social eating events. Hormel’s national survey of 5,000 consumers around the country found the optimal size for a tailgate party is 11 people.

Tailgate crowds have plenty of time to eat as the Hormel survey found people usually at a tailgate two hours before the start of the game.

Estimates of money spent for tailgate parties annually range as high as $12 billion and that’s not all for brews, brats and burgers.

Nearly three-fourths of the respondents to the Hormel survey believe food selection can make or break a tailgate party.

The deli has an opportunity to help tailgaters make their fare a cut above the stuff you find a few grills down the parking lot.


“Tailgating has become a special ‘foodie’ event where people are more willing to splurge on fresh gourmet ingredients,” says Jill Falgiano, corporate chef and national sales director at Losurdo Foods, Inc., Hackensack, NJ. “People are eating non-traditional tailgate foods, not simply hot dogs or hamburgers. The sandwich isn’t going anywhere, and you can use things like quality fresh mozzarella cheese.”

Losurdo is a producer of deli and gourmet-quality Italian foods, specifically fresh mozzarella, fresh mozzarella cheese curd, ricotta, pizza dough and cannoli cream.

Before driving to the stadium, some savvy tailgaters load their trucks with equipment that can help them rival kitchen-quality cooking.

“Backyard ovens are more sophisticated and portable; you can make pizza at the tailgate,” says Falgiano. “Anything pizza-related will work — traditional pizza cheese, fresh mozzarella and fresh frozen pizza dough are easily available at the deli to have a tailgate pizza party.”

Some producers offer traditional tailgate meats that take quality to a different level.

“A lot of deli department buyers take on a nice amount of what are traditionally meat department items like our gourmet franks and sausages, pickles, Italian chubs, meat snacks and our cut and wrapped cheeses and merchandise them in cases right in the deli department,” says Stephen Riley, communications and partnership manager at Dietz & Watson, Inc., Philadelphia, PA. “And while grilling items are huge for tailgating, fresh-sliced deli is still a home run for tailgating sandwiches, hoagies, subs and wraps.”

Dietz & Watson has produced artisan quality meats and cheeses since 1939.

“Portability makes for an easier tailgating menu item,” says Riley. “That’s why items like franks and sausages are so popular. The weather or time of year plays a big part, too. A bowl of coleslaw or a platter of turkey sandwiches on a table during a hot summer concert tailgate can lead to foodborne illness. But in most areas of the country, once football season gets into October, the sky is the limit on tailgating fare — unless it gets too cold.”


But along with high-quality meats and cheeses, some tailgate parties also feature spreads and dips that are a cut above.

“America has gone ‘dip crazy;’ more snacking at home, office and now tailgate parties,” says Carl Cappelli, vice president of sales and business development at Don’s Prepared Foods, Schwenksville, PA. “Celebratory dips, cheese spreads and snacking events are hot.”

Don’s Prepared Foods makes a line of artisan seafood, chicken and plant-based salads. The company also offers dips and spreads in many flavors including artichoke and asiago, shrimp, smoky bacon cedar, buffalo chicken, cheddar bacon and ranch, and Cajun crab.

The company features lines of clean label and artisan dips, spreads and salads.

Dips can become a center of the parking lot party.

“Dipping at a tailgate is communal, a sharing in fun,” says Cappelli. “Dips and spreads are indulgent, celebratory. This means making memories. Dips evolved from dipping a potato chip into a cup to using dips and cheese spread on everything including burgers, flatbreads, sandwiches and French fries.”

According to the Hormel survey, chips trail only burgers and hot dogs at the top of the tailgate food list. 63% of retailers are increasing their prepared food offerings, according to Cappelli.


Don’s also offers tailgate items that appeal to health-conscious tailgaters who want good nutrition with their indulgence.

“We have plant-based grains and side dishes; clean, globally-inspired flavors that pair with any meal,” says Cappelli.

In addition to plant-based foods, some traditional tailgate meats are also available in options that are a little healthier.

“Let’s face it; most people generally aren’t treating tailgating as a day in the gym, but Dietz & Watson has been working for decades to make tailgates a little healthier without compromising taste,” says Riley. “In the ’70s, Dietz & Watson introduced their first Gourmet Lite items, featuring lower sodium, low fat, low cholesterol turkey breast and deli ham, as well as a no-salt added turkey breast. Today, the Healthier Lifestyle line features dozens of items and remains one of the best-selling lines. It includes Gourmet Lite Turkey Breast. Dietz & Watson has been moving in that direction ever since, offering many organic, all-natural and uncured items including brand new lines of uncured franks, sausages and kielbasas.”

 The Hormel survey found the ideal tailgate food should be portable, easy to cook, and have a long shelf-life outside of the refrigerator.

 But the trends toward food safety and sustainability have also made their way into this enclave of burgers and brews.

“Food safety with non-breakable packaging make an item suitable for tailgating,” says Dominic Biggi, CEO at Beaverton Foods, Hillsboro, OR. “The trend toward healthier eating extends to tailgating, for sure. Natural and organic ketchup and mustards are trending. Brats and hot dogs with award-winning mustard are the most important items for tailgating in the deli.”

Beaverton Foods began during the Depression, when Rose Biggi started grinding and bottling her horseradish and selling it to local stores.

The company still includes extra horseradish in its line of gourmet condiments.


The containers used to transport foods to the tailgate have also benefitted from recent upgrades.

“Placon’s catering trays recently underwent upgrades to increase their durability and customers are very happy with the updates. Our catering trays come in multiple sizes and compartment variations to accommodate the sweet and savory palettes,” says Kali Kinziger, product manager at Placon, Madison, WI. “Catering trays have been around for a long time, but what’s special about Placon’s catering trays on top of the redesign is that each tray is made from recycled water and soda bottles into recyclable PET. No longer do you have to worry about transporting a heavy glass tray and spending all this prep time on taco dip, you can go to your local supermarket and grab a sustainably-made and recyclable pre-packaged solution.”

 Placon has been using recycled PET to make food packaging since the 1990s, has an ECOSTAR line of packages made from at least 75% post-consumer recycled material, and is one of the few packaging companies with the ability to repurpose plastic in its Madison plant.

“We are one of the only packaging companies in the world to have their own onsite recycling center,” says Kinziger. “We truly live the sustainable way, bringing in water and soda bottles collected from homes around Wisconsin and Minnesota to our reclamation center in Madison, WI. We wash, grind, and extrude food-grade PET sheet that we make into new packaging. Tailgating or other away-from-home activities are often associated with waste, but PET is a circular plastic, meaning it can be completely recycled and reused again. If you are looking for a sustainable option, look for packages that say, “Made with EcoStar” on the bottom, then you’ll know it’s made with recycled plastic.”


There are many merchandising strategies for taking advantage of the multi-billion-dollar tailgate opportunity.

“Floor displays in the meat/deli section are effective,” advises Beaverton Foods’ Biggi. “And front-of-aisle displays are, too.”

Displays can be creatively designed to suggest how deli ingredients come together to make for an exceptional quality tailgate eating experiences.

“Tailgate solutions in store help the consumer buy the components they need and build brand equity for that retailer,” advises Don’s Prepared Foods’ Cappelli. “Cross-promotions with a retailer’s in-store departments like bakery or produce can be a big hit. Buy hot dogs or deli meats and save money on fresh rolls for example. BOGOs are also popular during tailgating shopping runs due to the volume needed to serve. Eye-catching merchandising combined with exciting savings on delicious tailgating items people need can be the best one-two punch.”

Merchandising can come down to the axiom that the deli is located conveniently close to the stadium when tailgaters realize they need one more ingredient.

“The deli is a convenience,” says Losurdo’s Falgiano.

This could come in handy for tailgaters who show up to the party without bringing food. Hormel’s survey found that 84% of the respondents believe everyone attending the tailgate should bring at least one item and almost half believe people who fail to do so are less likely to be invited to future tailgate parties.


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