The Deli Bread Difference

With an upscale spin, bread sales in the deli continue to rise.

Sarah Klose

With their wholesome goodness and plentiful varieties, breads sold in the bakery or deli section of a supermarket continue to gain favor with customers.

Sales of perimeter bakery breads were up 3.3% in 2020 and accounted for over $3 billion in sales, according to the Madison, WI-based International Deli Dairy Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) report, What’s in Store 2021. Perimeter breads sales increased 6.5%, to $1.35 billion, croissants by 12.4% to $401 million, and tortillas/wraps/flatbreads by 9.3% to $252 million.

As compared to the softer loaves found in the commercial grocery aisle, deli breads are unique and tend to be premium, hearty and quality offerings.

“You will see rye, sourdough and multigrain breads that have a more rustic and artisanal appearance. These breads may be free-form, like a sliced deli loaf or boule, with a larger slice creating more surface to add premium proteins, sauces and cheese for an upscale sandwich,” says Janet Conning, senior vice president of marketing and product development at Backerhaus Veit.

Backerhaus Veit makes loaves with a small batch process that gently handles the dough, resulting in premium loaves with thin, crisp crusts and moist, light interiors. The company, based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, bakes everything from Mill Grain Bread to Potato Scallion Dinner Rolls.

When it comes to deli bread, product displays help drive sales. Rolls and breads are often stacked on knee-high shelves that run the length of the deli counter. Customers often simply glance down to select a bread for a deli-made wrap, pita or sandwich— although deli bread may be sold behind the counter unbranded.

“The handheld trend—with people eating on the go—has been here for quite some time and is likely here to stay,” says Warren Stoll, marketing director of Kontos Foods in Paterson, NJ.

Hand-stretched flatbreads that range from spiced roti to 12-inch spinach wraps make for easy sandwiches and are among the products created by Kontos Foods. Their Pocket-Less Pitas can be folded or eaten flat and are baked in white, wheat and Greek with EVOO.

Another flatbread bakery featured in the deli section is Toufayan Bakeries in Ridgefield, NJ. It produces hearth-baked naan, tandoori flatbread and wraps as well as Smart Pockets for pita sandwiches, lavash, tortillas and healthy Smart bagels.

“We often have a separate rack of products to merchandise pita and naan. They come in many flavors, including four gluten free flavors,” says Karen Toufayan, the company’s vice president of marketing and sales.

St. Pierre Groupe has its own display units, too. They come on wheels, give a nod to Paris and have been shown to increase sales by more than 50%. St. Pierre Groupe bakes breads and rolls to traditional French recipes and ships them frozen to the U.S. for “thaw and sell” at the deli.

“From our Eiffel tower stands that communicate our heritage to our inclusion in rustic bakery baskets—we help deliver an in-store experience that doesn’t require any on-site bakers,” says Paul Baker, founder of St. Pierre Groupe and international director for the St. Pierre Bakery brand, Manchester, UK.

While product displays are important, synergies can boost marketing of deli bread. Many companies utilize this technique to highlight their products.

“Because lahvosh is such a great companion to cheeses, we are often marketed in the deli section. Our boxes are often found on top of the cheese cases,” says Jenni Bonsignore, marketing manager for Valley Lahvosh Baking Co.

The Fresno, CA-based bakery’s deli crackers come in heart, star and diamond shapes. Valley Lahvosh produces 5-, 10- and 12-inch rounds that work as wraps, pizza crusts and bread alternatives. The lahvosh can be cut up, arranged with crackers and turned into artistic party trays by creative deli staff.

“They roll them into a spiral, and you have meats, cheeses, pickles. It is a nice easy way to add something pretty—the bubbly surface of the crackers, the interesting shapes of the crackers,” says Bonsignore.

Other deli breads also work well in party trays. “For Easter, merchandisers down south made trays of egg salad, tuna salad and crab salad on our mini croissants,” says Toufayan.

Cross Promotions

Through various cross promotions, deli and bakery departments can boost sales of deli bread and elevate the food experience for consumers.

One way to do so is through the enticing smell of fresh-baked bread. DeIorio’s Frozen Dough ships frozen breads and rolls to the supermarkets, and the bakery pops them in the oven.

“They are proofed and baked fresh at the store level in the morning to be ready before a lunch rush. The aroma and freshness are a major appeal for the consumer. Additional rolls are baked, packaged and placed directly in front of the deli counter for consumers wishing to assemble at home,” says Jim Vitti, vice president, sales and marketing, DeIorio’s Frozen Dough.

Vitti adds that the key is to have happy hour formats that marry sale times with the baking schedule in order to pique consumer interest in the ingredients.

Kontos Foods favors hot sandwiches made behind the deli counter. “Panini flatbread would be a cross promotion we could entertain. The ingredients are heated up, the cheese is melted. But not all supermarket delis have room for a panini press. So we sell a panini wheat bread that is already grilled. That is precisely why we put the grill marks on the bread,” says Stoll.

While not all delis have sandwich presses, some of them can create charcuterie boards with breads, meat, cheese, pickles and olives. Customers create their own, too, often posting photos on Instagram and tagging the company to show off their artwork—and sometimes receiving free samples in return.

“This is the beauty—people can put whatever they want on them. They’ll use a cookie cutter to make cheese shapes and add our crackers around them. I saw a 4th of July one that was red, white and blue,” says Bonsignore of Valley Lahvosh.

While some bakeries promote their deli breads through hot lunch items and charcuterie boards prepared in-store, others focus on the consumer experience in the home.

Backerhaus Veit works with premium protein, meat and cheese suppliers to supply culinary expertise that will inspire consumers to create restaurant-quality sandwiches at home.

St. Pierre Groupe makes a sweet, light brioche bread for club sandwiches or French toast, which attracts consumers who won’t shy away from food that is both functional and decadent. “Brioche is now widely recognized as a way to elevate everyday meals—recreating restaurant quality at home,” says Baker.

Current trends

With deli bread, trends are for clean ingredients and reduced waste.

Many bakeries now produce non-GMO, fat free, cholesterol free and carb free options. These products are ideal for younger customers, who seek healthy natural foods and also prefer less waste. A 2019 American Bakers Association study found that more than half of Gen Z and Millennial customers surveyed would buy more baked goods if they came in smaller portions. A number of bakeries have taken steps to meet these needs.

“We manufacture in a kosher and vegan facility,” says Conning of Backerhaus Veit. “We offer a half loaf format for both our deli loaves and our traditional wide-loaf sandwiches to allow the consumer to enjoy the bread at its freshest throughout its usable life.”

Toufayan Bakeries’ choices include all natural, gluten-free and organic sprouted. “ ‘All natural’ means using natural preservatives as opposed to calcium proprionate in our pita bread. Our pita has flour, water, yeast, no sugar. Some pitas do contain sugar but ours do not,” says Toufayan. The company’s pita bread has an eight-day shelf life, bagels keep 30 days, wraps 45 days. “Baking is a science, and the ingredients dictate the shelf life,” she adds.

St. Pierre Bakery has individually-wrapped loaves inside its multipacks, to preserve freshness. St. Pierre Bakery, DeIorio’s Frozen Dough and Kontos Foods all sell products to the deli frozen.

“When the store puts them out, that is when ambient shelf life begins to click. Deli counter items move fast enough that they don’t worry about shelf life. They typically put out one day’s worth at a time,” says Stoll of Kontos Foods.

Exciting new products

Per NielsenIQ, food and beverage spending increased from 17.5% to 18.9% of budgets from Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, due to restaurant closures and stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flatbreads and crackers served with dips, homemade pizza on lahvosh crust with a home ingredients bar and fancy burgers housed on elegant breads allowed consumers to have a big night in during these times. Nutritious, flavorful new deli breads were welcomed.

Some of the new products include Rustics Collection Tandoori Naan by Kontos Foods and Sea Salt Minis snack crackers by Valley Lahvosh. Signature Loaves in various flavors were released in an eight-slice format by Backerhaus Veit.

DeIiorio’s Frozen Dough is currently “focusing a lot on ancillary items such as flavored breadsticks and doughs. Examples would include broccoli cheddar, sweet potato, chickpea and other on-trend varieties,” says Vitti of DeIorio’s.

St. Pierre Groupe released brioche sandwich rolls and seeded brioche burger buns, satisfying the younger generation’s desire for premium products and new experiences.

“Millennials are more exploratory in their tastes and account for a huge proportion of the consumer food market,” says Baker of St. Pierre Groupe. “The idea that certain flavors or foods are ‘not for me’ is fading; new flavors are easier to try, and consumers are driving the demand for weird, wonderful and whimsical combinations.” DB


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