Upscaling Deli Bread Offerings

Sarah Klose

There are many merchandising opportunities to highlight bread in the deli.

Sweet summer time. It’s the season for beach days and backyard barbecues. Whether consumers plan a day of picnicking or a night of grilling, supermarkets can meet their needs by supplying racks of appealing deli breads that complement their meats, fish, cheeses and plant-based proteins.

Deli breads have enduring popularity. The Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) What’s In Store 2023 reports total perimeter bakery sales at $17.8 billion for the 52-week period ending April 2, 2023. This marked a 12.2% increase in dollar sales versus one year ago (most of the increase came from inflationary prices, as unit sales were about the same).

Annual category sales for the 52 weeks ending April 2, 2023 were $1.5 billion deli bread, $1 million buns/rolls and $321,000 tortillas/wraps/flatbread. Croissants ($615 million) and bagels ($297 million) had the highest annual increases in unit sales, at 4.5% and 4.9% respectively.

What Distinguishes Deli Bread

Shoppers purchase upscale deli breads to treat themselves. To them, it’s a premium worth spending for a high-quality meal.

“Bakery is a staple category for U.S. shoppers,” says Neil Pittman, U.S. sales director, St Pierre Bakery in Manchester, England. “Despite financial challenges and a constantly changing consumer landscape, money will always be spent in the sector.”

Consumers who spend a bit more to buy premium breads discover unique flavors and textures. And since deli breads also offer convenience, supermarkets are advised to carry a wide selection.

“Consumers are standing there ordering roast beef or ham and literally looking for the bread they need,” says Karen Toufayan, sales and marketing at Toufayan Bakeries in Ridgefield, NJ. “The deli is perfect for placement, convenience and cross merchandising of lunch meat, bread, condiments, pretzels, popcorn. You can get your whole lunch.”

Furthermore, the unique aspects of deli breads, wraps and crackers can enhance the consumer dining experience.

“The deli has more specialty breads like lahvosh.” says Jenni Bonsignore, marketing manager at Valley Lahvosh Baking Co. in Fresno, CA. “In the supermarket deli, things are a little more elevated, a little more gourmet.”

Deli Bread Trends

Deli breads may be gourmet, but they are also part of the grab-and-go trend. Savvy retailers can boost sales by stocking ready-made sandwiches and wraps for busy consumers.

And here’s a thought: a supermarket deli can select sandwiches made from Kontos breads and heat up many at once.

“Not in the microwave, because that makes the bread spongy. You put it on a grill to heat it up, and make 10 at a time, as opposed to one at a time on a panini press,” says Warren Stoll, marketing and business development director at  Kontos Foods in Paterson, NJ. “I have seen premade sandwiches in the window or case; with ours, the grill mark lines are on the bread.”

The pre-grilled marks on Kontos bread make it appear as if the handheld sandwiches were made on a panini press. A person munching on a sandwich in the car likely wouldn’t know the difference.

Another trend has to do with dietary preferences, such as the low carb, high fat keto plan. “Flatbreads have been around for a while, so we just took it to another level by making a keto flatbread,” Toufayan says. The bakery also makes a keto wrap.

“I see people eating more of a Mediterranean diet because it is healthy. I also think people care about where food comes from, and want a business that uses healthy ingredients or has a strong family history,” Bonsignore says. Its lahvosh is naturally healthy, non-GMO and trans fat free.

Charcuterie boards are a growing trend and make lovely presentations for brunch and simple solutions for dinner. Supermarkets can drive growth by grouping charcuterie ingredients in the deli.

“Charcuterie is a European trend, and St Pierre offers brioche and baked goods made to authentic French recipes,” says Pittman. “What’s more, as the trend evolves, St Pierre with its lightly sweet flavor is perfectly placed to accompany savory charcuterie and elevate ‘sweet’ charcuterie boards.”

New Developments

In the deli bread world, consumers welcome spicy and exotic flavors and various bread sizes and shapes. Supermarkets are advised to carry as many options as they can profitably sell.

Kontos Foods makes round and oval flatbreads in multigrain, whole wheat, spicy, spinach and tomato. The company markets teardrop-shaped naan from Indian culture and pita (pocket and pocketless) from Greek culture.

“From Spanish culture, we have the gordita bread (soft shell taco flatbread),” says Stoll of Kontos Foods. “It is absolutely true that we are big on innovation. We might focus on a certain region of the country where a certain culture is prevalent.”

Toufayan Bakeries makes a new Hawaiian bagel, which is quite popular in the Southeast. “Chicken salad is awesome on it. You can make a deli egg sandwich in the morning or a ham and pineapple sandwich,” Toufayan says.

Bakeries do find regional popularity for certain deli bread items. But consumers are becoming more experimental in general — sampling new tastes, trying new flavors.

Valley Lahvosh cinnamon hearts can be topped with mascarpone or strawberry cream cheese. Consumers can serve lahvosh in a bread basket at home, just like at the Capitol Grille restaurant. “People are much more open to trying things that wouldn’t be on their palates or in their cupboards 15 years ago,” Bonsignore says.

St Pierre’s brioche bagels, launched last year, complement its brioche rolls, subs and croissants, which can be sliced and topped for a charcuterie board.

“St Pierre products most-suited to the trend are in positive growth, with brioche sliders up 20%, mini croissants up 12% and sliced brioche loaf up 12%. Brioche is an easy way to upgrade meals, and perfectly suited to the growing charcuterie trend,” Pittman says.

Another option is breads surrounded by flavored sweet butters. “The butter boards are becoming really popular. This is where people put different butters around charcuterie. It makes a pretty presentation,” Bonsignore says.

Grilling Season

Grilling is a summer tradition, so grocery stores should offer a nice selection of  deli breads for backyard barbecues.

St Pierre Bakery kick-starts grilling season by marketing National Brioche Day (on May 14th). Its brioche burger buns (plain and seeded) and brioche hot dog rolls elevate a cookout by allowing consumers to treat themselves at home.

“Brioche, as a category, is up 20% in the last year, and as we approach grilling season, growth in its popularity with U.S. shoppers will maintain momentum,” Pittman says. “A shopper who upgrades to St Pierre is also more likely to upgrade in other grilling essentials.”

Flatbreads, bagels, croissants and tortillas are other bread choices for picnics and barbecues.

“You can easily use the Smart pocket or pita as a regular bun. It is also terrific if you make a kabob. If you make a chicken kabob with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and tzatziki sauce ( a yogurt and cucumber dip) that is awesome. Mediterranean is quite popular,” Toufayan says.

Merchandising and Cross Merchandising

Premium deli breads naturally attract consumers. And marketing support and effective merchandising can accelerate sales growth in the segment.

“Our Eiffel Towers have been proven to increase sales, providing in-store theater and a customer experience. We’ve also introduced a range of new merchandising solutions (racks, table toppers and knee knockers) to drive sales for retailers across the store – not just in bakery,” Pittman says.

For bakeries that produce pizza crust breads (i.e. flatbreads, lahvosh), cross merchandising is key. “What happens is stores position the pizza crust where complimentary ingredients are available, such as sauces and cheeses,” says Stoll of Kontos Foods.

For consumers who seek sweet and savory combinations on their high-quality bread, delis can feature a plethora of ingredients. For example, fig jam, brie cheese and walnuts make a wonderful lahvosh topping.

“It is not labor intensive, and it will look like you did something extra. That’s the nice thing about lahvosh; it is versatile and easy to work with,” says Bosignore of Valley Lahvosh. “You can also have dippers with hot spinach dip — you cut lahvosh into triangles to go with the dip, and it sort of elevates the whole thing. More cheese is always good in my book.”

Regarding social media marketing, Stoll of Kontos Foods says the focus is on deli bread recipes, customer interaction and product launches. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest are the main platforms employed.

Artisan Breads and Supermarket Sandwich Programs

Deli breads are perfect for grocery store prepared sandwiches.

Toufayan Bakeries produces 12-inch wraps for sandwich programs at supermarket chains. Or delis can soften its 15-inch crisp lahvosh with water, and wrap it in towels the old school way. This makes the lahvosh into more of a bread than a cracker, so it can be rolled into pinwheel sandwiches.

“We also make a ring bread — large and small. The ring bread is small rolls attached to one another like a ring,” says Toufayan.

Artisan breads in the deli section may be rustic looking and are usually handcrafted from just a few high quality ingredients. For example, breads by Kontos Foods are hand-stretched.

“Sales of ‘artisan bread’ are up 10% on last year – and St Pierre launched its first non-brioche product in this sector at the end of last year, with a range of premium ‘bake at home’ products,” Pittman says.

Packaging Technologies

As far as packaging, resealable is still in vogue for deli bread. This includes twist ties and plastic bags that reseal.

Kontos Foods recently purchased Modified Atmosphere Processing (MAP) equipment that performs gas flushing. It removes oxygen and adds carbon dioxide/nitrogen to produce an airtight sealed bag, thus preserving freshness and appearance.

“MAP is more prevalent in Europe, especially in countries like Holland and France, which tend to be more innovative in their packaging, because many of their products don’t have a shelf life,” Stoll says. MAP is new to Kontos Foods, and may well become a hit.


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