Targeting Tailgating Consumers

Turn the deli into a tailgating destination.

Carol M. Bareuther

Score a touchdown in sales by turning the deli into a destination for tasty tailgating supplies. That’s what Josh Naughton, director of deli, seafood and specialty cheese at Roche Bros. Supermarkets, has championed. The 21-store chain headquartered in Mansfield, MA, which operates under Roche Bros., Sudbury Farms and Brothers Marketplace banners, has long capitalized on the tailgating topic. 

Last year, Naughton changed the program’s theme to Football, Food & Fun, highlighting that food should be fun around a gridiron pastime theme. The retailer also partnered with one of the New England Patriots’ captains, David Andrews, in a Pick of the Week program that includes premium deli meats with promotional pricing. Andrews also makes in-store appearances, social media commercials and radio spots around a football, tailgate, and what’s in store at Roche Bros. theme. The result is at minimum a double-digit percent sales increase in the weekly feature. That’s not all. There are several other savvy ways Naughton has made sure Roche Bros. delis are where shoppers can score all their foods for a great tailgate.

“Home gating is still a big part of tailgating, especially since many people have taken so much time over the last years of the pandemic to turn their homes, decks and backyards into a place to entertain,” says Naughton. “Yet like before COVID, the trends in what shoppers want for this occasion remain grab-and-go and ready-to-eat.”

Food historians say tailgating got its start in Roman times when spectators would gather to party and picnic before and after chariot races. The ball got rolling on modern-day tailgating at the first-ever college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 in New Jersey. By 1919, after autos with trunks or tailgates were invented, the term tailgating was coined by Green Bay Packer fans that circled up to eat and cheer the newly-founded team. National Tailgating Day became a holiday in 2016, celebrated on the first Saturday in September. Most importantly for deli operators, a 2019 survey of football fans by San Francisco-headquartered car sharing marketplace, Turo, found that over 80% of respondents said the most important part of a tailgate is the food. Extrapolated to the U.S. population, that means some 240 million Americans tailgate out at football games or homegate in front of games on TV. 


There’s no one food to suit every tailgate taste. Case in point, among the top tailgate recipes on the Food Network’s website are sandwiches like a Hoagie Dip or hoagie meats and cheeses in a bread bowl, snacks like Charred Corn Guacamole and Chips, and even pizza—think Philly Cheese Steak Pizza. Beyond this, deli meats used in trays and charcuterie boards as well as deli salads are staples. 

SANDWICHES. Sandwiches are a big grab-and-go food for tailgating at Roche Bros, says Naughton. “We make a large sandwich on ciabatta bread that’s enough to feed five or six people. Also popular are 3- and 5-foot sub sandwiches. The 3-footer has the most tonnage because it’s easier to manage than the 5-footer.”

Two versions are an Italian Party Sub with mortadella, imported boiled ham, Genoa salami and Provolone cheese layered with fresh produce condiments and a Home Cooked Party Sub with roast beef, baked ham and Swiss cheese.

SNACKS. America has gone ‘Dip Crazy!’, says Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development for Don’s Prepared Foods, in Schwenksville, PA. “Our most popular are Cajun Krab Dip, Artichoke & Asiago Cheese Dip and Buffalo Chicken Dips. Delis can assemble and advertise tailgate snacking with a selection of dips and spreads. Or they can build platters with tie-ins like crackers, chips and toast points with napkins and plates and merchandise in football-themed displays in-store. Platters should be wrapped and ready for transport.”

¡Yo Quiero! brand guacamole, salsa, and cheese dips sell in the deli of grocery store banners owned by the Boise, ID-headquartered Albertsons Cos. The manufacturer, Fresh Innovations, LLC, in Rhome, TX, recently introduced an elote dip, made of whole kernel corn, green chilies and Cotija cheese.

“Offering fresh premium dips with baked and better-for-you type crackers is a good way to pull shoppers out of the grocery aisle and into the deli,” says Tara Murray, vice president of marketing. “Delis can use our elote dip to make roasted jalapeno poppers ready for customers to heat on the grill or in the oven. Starting with our pre-made dip helps ease labor concerns. Plus, it offers the deli something to set it apart from the competition. Millennials and Gen Z are foodies and will treasure hunt the perimeter departments of the supermarket. There’s a level of status for them to bring something no one has seen or tasted before.”

Hot dips also score for snacking. One example is Warm Artichoke and Bacon Dip, which is among the Food Network’s top tailgate recipes. Another is Pepper Jack Skillet Dip, made with cracker cuts from Waitsfield, VT-based Cabot Creamery Cooperative. “In the deli, we have seen strong growth with our branded 10-ounce cracker cuts. These are boosting the category, with pound and dollar growth significantly above category trends,” says Ian Ormon, shopper marketing manager, citing 18% in pounds and 26% in dollars for the 52 weeks ending June 12, 2022, according to Chicago-based IRI’s data. “The resealable packaging means you can pack the cheese back up and put it back in the cooler when you’re done with it.”

  PIZZA & MORE. Backyard pizza ovens were a pandemic-prompted home improvement trend for entertaining. Add to this that portable grills are back in fashion to fit a more mobile lifestyle, according to a March 2022 press release on trends by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, headquartered in Arlington, VA.

“Build a make-your-own pizza display in the deli,” suggests Jill Falgiano, national sales director and chef at Losurdo Foods, Inc, in Hackensack, NJ, who in 2016 won the Food Network’s reality TV cooking show Chopped’s tailgate party theme episode. “We offer fresh frozen dough balls that are easy to use. Display these with sauces, cheese and other toppings. Our fresh mozzarella loaf is vacuum-packed and ideal to use in a wood or coal-fired oven. Or the deli can use these to make up signature take-and-bake or grab-and-grill pizzas.”

Not just pizza, or hamburgers and hot dogs, are game for the grill.

“Unique to us, and starting last year, are New England Chowder Fries. These are fries covered with New England clam chowder and a sprinkle of bacon on the top. We sell this in a 32-ounce metal pan, fully cooked, that can be reheated on the grill. It can feed 15 to 20 people,” says Roche Bros. Naughton.

Loaded fries are a hit in restaurants. Most (88% of the population knows about this dish, and nearly three-fourths (70%, have tried them, according to February 2022-released data from Chicago-headquartered market research firm, Datassential.

DELI TRAYS & CHARCUTERIE. A growing trend is offering antipasto and charcuterie in convenient, portable packaging, making these a perfect option for tailgate parties” says Maureen McDonnell, director of marketing for Olli Salumeria, in Oceanside, CA. “In addition to easily portable packaging with separate compartments for each ingredient, all our Antipasto Trays are made to peel-and-reseal, which makes it easy to transport to tailgating events. The resealable packaging also makes for easy clean-up, without the hassles of a 

traditional charcuterie board.” 

The company’s five-item line of 12-ounce Antipasto Trays includes traditional Italian meats, high-quality cheeses and specially-selected accompaniments. For example, the newest flavor, Cornichons & Onions, comes with these ingredients, paired with Italian dry salami with cheddar cheese curds.

Equally ready for a touchdown at the register are the Columbus Craft Meats-brand Charcuterie Tasting Boards sold by Hormel Foods, headquartered in Austin, MN. Sold on a printed wood tray, the traditional board features Italian dry salame, Calabrese salami, white cheddar cheese, La Panzanella multigrain crackers, Castelvetrano olives and dark chocolate-covered cranberries. The Mediterranean Style Charcuterie Board is filled with chorizo, prosciutto, Taralli crackers, dried Turkish apricots, Fontina cheese and a French olive medley. Both are 12.5-ounces.

“Our Charcuterie Tasting Boards continue to be a great solution for consumers, as they gather more frequently. Shoppers still want convenience but are also seeking an elevated experience. These products are a way to provide both, exciting and tasting pairings all in simple and sleek-looking packaging,” says Holly Lavallie, vice president of marketing for Hormel Deli Solutions.

New this spring, the George DeLallo Co., based in Mt. Pleasant, PA, launched its Charcuterie Bag Program. 

“The program is a partnership with retailers, where we supply all the components needed to create a complete tailgate in a bag. We include all the signage and bag tags to market this program within the deli. Charcuterie Bags feature a well-rounded, perfectly-paired charcuterie spread ready to pick up and go, so customers don’t have to plan or prep,” says Giuliana Pozzuto, director of marketing and product innovation.

DELI SALADS TO GO. Purple Potato Salad is one of the top tailgate recipes on the Food Network’s website. Deli salads represented nearly one-fifth (18.2%) of the Deli Prepared Foods & Meals category, according to the IDDBA’s What’s in Store 2022. Making salads portable is an ideal way to turn this cornerstone category into a tailgating staple. 

Placon, headquartered in Madison, WI, has introduced a new tamper-evident salad container that eliminates the need for shrink bands or tamper-evident labels. The containers, made of post-consumer recycled PET, are clear so the food inside shows through. Grab-and-go sizes range from 8 to 64 ounces. Flat or domed lids are available as well as four-compartment inserts.

“Our new tamper-evident salad bowls are ideal for taking a party-size serving of potato salad to a burger and brat tailgate party. Or, with the inserts, delis can put together salad and sandwich combinations. Or fixings for a Caprese, chef or cobb salad that can be combined when ready to eat like a kit,” says Kali Kinziger, product manager.


Create a tailgate destination in the deli, recommends Roche Bros. Naughton. “Then, put key items you want movement on within the store on the way to that destination. The whole idea is to get customers in-store. Then in the deli, make it easy for customers to shop and this will build basket ring. For example, Dietz & Watson is our premium deli meat brand. Its Oven Classic Turkey Breast was one of our David Andrews Pick of the Week last year. We advertised multiple dollars off per pound via a themed Football, Food, and Fun sign with Andrews’ picture and positioned this next to the multideck case with the turkey. In front, we cross merchandised rolls, mustard, chips and water. Sales on turkey alone were up double digits as a result.”

Prior to the pandemic, Cabot Creamery worked with several other brands to bring a tailgating theme to the deli kiosk with in-store signage communicating recipes for easy tailgating parties, sweepstakes for tailgating prizes, pairing suggestion, and more. These other brands included commodity food partners, various beer brands, fancy crackers and/or deli meats. 

“A Fall 2022 program at Stop & Shop will focus on charcuterie boards for tailgating and be in-store as well as shared on social media this October with Sun-Maid Dried Fruits,” says Ormon.

This fall, too, Olli Salumeria is expanding its marketing support in the form of an integrated brand and product campaign encompassing advertising, promotions, shopper marketing and social and public relations, according to McDonnell. “A special focus on our Antipasto Trays will position these portable charcuterie offerings as an ideal shareable tailgating snack for sporting events.”


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