Talking Turkey

This deli meat and prepared birds are on trend as healthy and convenient meal options.

The trends in healthier eating with less dining out have helped propel the turkey category.

“Turkey continues to be a consumer favorite in the deli. It’s a versatile and lean protein, which hits a lot of consumer preferences today,” says Jeff Baker, group vice president, retail marketing, at Jennie-O, a subsidiary of the Hormel Foods Corp., based in Willmar, MN.

For October, 54% of consumers expect they will eat out as often, while 24% believe they will eat out or take out less at restaurants. “These are important stats for deli-prepared,” said Heather Prach, director of education for the Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). “For those times that people are out of time or energy to cook, we often see restaurants win out. Clearly, takeout and delivery are now big components of that restaurant convenience and something to consider for retail deli prepared to help extend sales beyond the in-store engagement.” 

According to Chicago-based IRI’s Syndicated Custom Model US Multi Outlet L52 report, for the week ending Oct., 30, 2022, Deli Grab & Go offerings continue to gain popularity with consumers and have grown to a third of sliced turkey deli sales.

Deli prepared meats like grab-and-go turkey meals, or any prepared meals in deli, are up 13.2%, according to IDDBA. 

“People are gravitating toward the deli over restaurants, with grab-and-go lunch meat already prepacked up 21.7% in sales,” Prach says.

The association’s report reveals consumers are still brand loyal and purchasing in the deli rather than home cooking or cutting corners by purchasing in lower quantities.

“We’re definitely seeing a rise in deli in general,” Prach says. “Mostly presliced is outperforming deli service, and with prepack in cases those numbers are double.”

The Trends

Citing the September wave of the IRI primary shopper survey, Jonna Parker, IRI’s team lead, fresh, added that an estimated 78% of all meal occasions are being prepared at home. “While this is down 10 points from the very start of the pandemic, the high inflationary levels are keeping the food dollar largely at retail. 

When purchasing groceries, 83% of consumers shopped in person, down from 85% in August. Online shopping was near equally divided between click-and-collect (10%) and home delivery (8%). Shoppers are not expecting a major change in their in-person versus online shopping: 4% expect they will buy all groceries online in the next few weeks and months, while 68% believe they will buy all groceries in person. 

“A pandemic trend with sticking power is omni-channel shopping,” Prach noted. “While in store, deli, dairy and bakery are among the top performance for eye-catching displays and impulse, there is room for improvement online. With 38% of shoppers mixing in person and online shopping, there is growth on the table by better executing our online conversion.” 

With all the buzz with shrinkflation, people are appreciating seeing the same turkey price points, even though they are getting smaller amounts in the packaging, reports the IDDBA.

“Rather than getting a pound of turkey that costs more, people are purchasing less rather than converting to private label,” Prach says. “Consequently, food waste has gone down with less leftovers.”

Yet, turkey is still outperforming other meats in deli, with consumers moving away from red meats and more toward poultry.

“We’re also seeing more turkey [purchases] compared to seafood,” Prach notes. 

In terms of packaging trends, there is definitely a push for using sustainable products.

“We’ve seen a lot more resealable packaging, especially when talking about prepacked in delis,” Prach notes. “We’re also seeing sandwich packs pairing cheese with meats, or providing two meats and two cheeses, so consumers are getting several sandwiches out of one pack. There is an ease of grabbing something out of the case rather than standing in line at the deli counter.”

“Trends for sliced turkey in the supermarket deli are similar to the many trends in the grocery store overall,” says Rebecca Welch, director of retail marketing, Butterball, headquartered in Garner, NC. “Prices have increased, which are driving dollar sales, putting some pressure on volume sales.” 

“Overarching trends around health and convenience continue to get stronger, but recent inflation that has been impacting all areas of the grocery store. That, as a result, has added a new dynamic,” Welch says.

Flavored turkey provides more merchandising options, while adding a spin on a traditional favorite.

Boar’s Head, based in New York, offers different versions, including Pineapple Roasted; Bold Blackened; Cajun Style; Bold Salsalito; Cracked Pepper Mill; and Hickory Smoked.

Philadelphia, PA-based Dietz & Watson’s varieties include Black Forest; Glazed Honey; Applewood; Turkey Breast Pastrami; Honey Maple; Mesquite; Peppered; Cajun-style; Herbed; and Peppercorn.

An Expanded Segment

There has been a move in supermarket delis to increase convenience, and sliced turkey provided prepackaged in the grab-and-go area gives consumers easy and quick purchasing options.

“This is an area that was experiencing growth prior to the pandemic and has continued to grow over the past couple of years as consumers look to minimize their time in the store and retailers look for options to help alleviate challenges with staffing,” Welch says. “Grab-and-go means consumers can enjoy the health benefits and freshness of service deli meats without the wait at the deli counter.”

With this expanded segment, Butterball is looking to bring solutions to retailers to help them capitalize on this growing segment as well as make it easier to manage challenging aspects of the service deli area like labor, waste and convenience.

“As a leader in turkey with our Jennie-O brand, we have a lot of options that are convenient, flavorful and help bring consumers to the deli area,” Baker at Jennie-O says. “We’ve continued to see success in growing the deli by focusing on snacking and entertaining options. Things like our Columbus Charcuterie Tasting Boards or Hormel Gatherings Party Trays are convenient and delicious solutions for this growing area.”

There have been a number of challenges in this segment, most notably the recent bird flu. 

“This has hit the turkey industry very hard this year, and the impacts can be felt in the deli space,” Welch notes. “Fortunately, Butterball has not experienced any significant impact due to avian influenza.”

Marketing & Merchandising

Product placement in the deli is key, as is taking advantage of cross merchandising opportunities.

With sliced turkey, pairing upscale condiments, artisan bread and cheeses can be effective in raising basket rings.

When it comes to prepared turkey meals, delis can provide bundling deals with sides, salads and desserts.

“In terms of merchandising, the deli case has many items to choose from, and calling out specific benefits can make it easier for a consumer to choose the product that meets their needs,” Welch says.

Looking ahead, the climate for turkey deli meat as well as whole prepared turkey remains strong. Consumers continue to look for at-home options that work for lunch and dinner day parts. And the continued healthy eating trend is good news for the segment.

“The deli, and especially sliced to order deli, offers a lot of convenient options for busy consumers,” Welch says. “I believe there will be continued focus on convenience for shoppers to provide them with options that reduce their time in the store.”


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