The Lucrative Snack Segment

Why the supermarket deli is a good source for snacks.

Keith Loria

When consumers shop at the supermarket deli, many are there to pick up lunch meat, cheese, salads, pre-made sandwiches or other meal items, and the sector was a big draw during the pandemic. 

In fact, the IDDBA COVID-19 Impact Report from December 2021 showed dollar sales were up 11% in 2020—even outpacing 2019 levels by more than 13%—well ahead of inflation. 

But one of the segments that saw a big rise was snacks sold in the deli—where items such as chips, dips, pickles, gourmet pretzels and even charcuterie plates in snacking sizes were popular among consumers of all ages. And that’s just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to what people consider snacks. 

Cheese cubes, olives, salami bites and snack trays filled with a collection of meats, cheese, veggies, crackers and pretzels are all popular at the deli in 2022. 

When it comes to the snacks sold in the supermarket deli, the snack themselves haven’t changed overtly in the last few years; however, the way in which people purchase them has, to an extent. 

Snacks in the deli are geared towards single-user events and typically paired with another product and served together versus stand-alone like snacks sold in the grocery aisle. Snacks in the deli also tend to be premium items.   

Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Groupe and international director for the St Pierre Bakery brand, Manchester, UK, notes prior to COVID, sales had started to slow, with some deli sectors in decline, but the pandemic transformed shopper behavior. Now the challenge is to maintain growth, attracting shoppers back to the in-store deli, amidst a cost-of-living crisis and the aftermath of a pandemic that brought hygiene into focus. 

“Like with any challenge though, the ‘comeback’ offers an opportunity for retailers to try something new and drive sales,” he says. “Changes in shopper behavior drive innovation, and I think the deli will be testament to this pattern in the coming months.”

That includes an uptick in snack interest amongst consumers.

“Customers shop the deli because it offers a different experience, and that’s where the opportunity lies for retailers and indeed for brands like St Pierre,” Baker says. “We offer innovative merchandising solutions to act as a trip trigger to the deli and increase basket spend.”

He notes pre-packaged party platters is a great snacking offering for the deli as more people are looking to get back together with friends and family and have something on-hand to offer in lieu of a meal. 

“After so long without entertaining, shoppers are keen to make at-home celebrations even more memorable—highlighting the need for a show-stopping platter,” he says. “There needs to be enough variety in the platter to keep shoppers interested. A good balance of new versus reliable.”

Healthy Matters

The habit of snacking is not just about indulging in a treat, and a great deal of snacks today aren’t even classified as junk food but it’s become more a way of life for younger generations as a meal solution. 

Research shows that most Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 say they eat a wholesome snack in place of a standard meal at least once a week. There are more than 400 million different types of snack foods according to the latest figures from NPD Research, and the deli counter is becoming home to more and more each year. 

The Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) projected that the snacks category would increase by more than 5% by 2025, though healthier snacks are expected to rise while salty and fatty snacks will see a decrease. 

IDDBA noted plant-based items are big sellers in the snack category as consumers are looking to eat healthier. 

Deanna Depke, marketing manager and a fourth-generation family worker at Volpi Foods, St. Louis, MO, agrees that consumers are seeking out fresh, better-for-you snacks, and the deli is just the destination to deliver them. 

“Refrigerated, meat-forward snacks evoke a premium quality that is matched by functional benefits shoppers look for like ‘high in protein,’ ‘low in sugar’ and ‘made without nitrates or nitrites,’” she says. 

In response, Volpi has continued to expand its successful lineup of Roltini Singles with an Oaxaca cheese and Spanish-style Chorizo pairing. 

“In addition, we have debuted a ‘Small Bites’ line of 1.5-ounce snackable packs of our ​bestselling pre-sliced meats that flex between the perfect afternoon snack and a mini meal,” Depke says. “We have found that snacking is a main entry point for charcuterie novices wanting to discover more flavors and varietals.”

Eric Girard, vice president of sales for Waterloo, WI-based Van Holten’s, which offers a selection of snacking pickles in the deli department, notes sales have been skyrocketing since the pandemic.

“Pickles are a healthy snack and with great flavor, and eye-popping packaging, we are getting great feedback about sales at retail,” he says. 

The company offers Pickle-In-A-Pouch, Pickle Cutz, Pickle-Ice and VH Pickleback snacks in a variety of flavors, which are perfect for grab-and-go snacks.

Going Nuts

Dan Herndon, vice president of sales and marketing for Hazelnut Growers of Oregon, headquartered in Aurora, OR, notes prepackaged premium ingredients in on-the-go formats bring together a full experience like charcuterie boards or the ability to make your own. 

“Sweet and Savory blends are big,” he says. “Think Lunchables for adults. Tyson, Sargento and private label options are growing rapidly. As we move past COVID, shoppers are looking to entertain and get together.”

And hazelnuts, Herndon notes, are a premium and versatile option for charcuterie and snack trays and an excellent pairing option in several forms—plain, salted, natural, roasted, seasoned or enrobed with chocolate.

To respond to the trend, Hazelnut Growers of Oregon launched a new 4-ounce line of upscale packaging in various flavors and formats, such as its Premium Culinary Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Hazelnut Oils for drizzling, flavoring and as a sauce.

The Joy of the Cracker

Amanda Hughart, brand manager of US Deli Brands for Dare Foods, headquartered in Cambridge, Canada, says prior to the pandemic, 19% of consumers reported they consumed three snacks a day. Post pandemic, 26% of consumers now say they consume three snacks a day. 

“As we see more snack consumption rise year over year, snacking is replacing formal meal occasions, and this is an existing opportunity for deli brands,” she says. “As consumers return to the perimeter of the store and are facing cooking fatigue from quarantining, they are looking for fresh and fulfilling snacks that are quick to prepare and can easily replace a meal occasion. A great example of this is we are seeing many of our consumers create small snack-sized charcuterie boards for one, as it is an easy lunch replacement or serves as a nice mid-afternoon snack.”

La Panzanella, under the Dare Foods umbrella, offers premium flatbread crackers in a variety of gourmet savory flavors such as Sea Salt, Rosemary, Garlic and Black Pepper in the deli, as it’s perfect for specialty cheese, artisan charcuterie and premium dips and hummus.

From recent consumer research, the company learned that 87% of deli cracker consumers find resealable packaging either “very important” or “somewhat important.”

“So we got to work immediately at the beginning of 2022 and launched La Panzanella Mini Croccantini 6-ounce products in new peel and reseal resealable packaging,” Hughart says. 

Functional ingredients that are a good source of vitamins and essential nutrients are also on trend, which is why Dare Foods came out with Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisps, featuring premium dried fruits such as Thompson raisins and superfood inclusions such as pumpkin and flax seeds.

Successful Marketing Measures

Supermarket delis that utilize savvy merchandising tactics and focus are going to do well with snack sales.

“Delis are typically more focused behind the counter with meat, cheese and salads versus maximizing packaged high-margin items,” Herndon says. “Packaged snacks need a space for merchandising, typically, on bunker tops, spinner racks or stacked display cases. Deli buyers need to push harder for contact with the snack vendors. The grocery aisle managers typically own that relationship and don’t care about the deli department.”

Therefore, creating a “snack destination” to draw attention to what’s available is vital for success, as is promoting, displaying and pricing for trial. 

“Understand the user occasions,” Herndon says. “Identify the total basket beyond meat and cheese. Snacks, carriers, flavor explorations, new and different, premium and gourmet, local when available, all natural at a minimum.”

The deli counter experience since the pandemic has looked to de-emphasize the interaction to let consumers feel safer; however, the experience is still vital. 

“The best way to offer that is through delivering quality snacks,” Baker says. “A dining experience that starts in-store and continues through to home will have a much greater impact with shoppers. That’s why we invest so much in our own branding and merchandising. Everything about St Pierre is designed to deliver an authentic, quality experience from start to finish.”

The core of a successful snacking program is to make it easy, convenient and relevant for busy shoppers. 

That’s why, Depke notes, building a set so snacking items are in a clearly defined area adjacent to prepared foods and bottled beverages that is easy to access for shoppers on the go during a lunch rush should be executed at all delis.

“Cross promote products that can be paired easily to create a meal, driving basket ring and adding value for guests,” she says. 

Demos are also a key to getting people to try new snack options, as many of these items are probably not on the grocery list when consumers leave home. 

“Work with vendors to build recipes or serve content and push hard through retailer programs,” Herndon says.

Hughart believes delis should offer pairing recommendations that are quick and easy to prepare, and market snack items through retailer social channels, e-newsletters, websites and other communication vehicles feature inspiring content that introduces consumers to unique brands featured in the deli.

“Create compelling stories and content online driving consumers to in-store delis,” she says. “Feature quick, healthy snacking solutions along with robust meal offerings that can be found in the deli.”


Sign up to get the latest news in retail deli, including prepared foods, foodservice and specialty cheese markets from Deli Business Magazine...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.