When Salami Goes High End

Artisan salami finds new fans and creative uses.

Tom Gresham

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with consumers and the companies that serve them. It also has led to subtle but impactful shifts in their habits and preferences. Some producers in the artisan salami field say the pandemic has strengthened interest in their products, as people turn to comfort and quality in their eating choices.

“Over the past year, artisan salami has also played a therapeutic role with a majority of people spending most of their time at home with just their close circle of family and friends,” says Evan Inada, charcuterie/partnerships director for Columbus Craft Meats, Hayward, CA. “A few slices of artisan salami always bring excitement to your family’s daytime snacks, fun movie night charcuterie boards, and are the perfect topping that makes every salad, pizza and sandwich taste like it was made at a restaurant.”

In fact, 2020 busted open the category of artisan salami, according to Simone Bocchini, president of Fratelli Beretta USA, based in Mt. Olive, NJ.

“Consumers became more adventurous in trying new flavors and spending a little bit more for their typical deli meat purchase,” she says.

Producers of artisan salami shared how the market has changed and considered where it’s headed.

Popular Uses

Bocchini says the typical use of salami remains in sandwiches and on charcuterie boards and plates.

In particular, Inada says the charcuterie category continues to grow, and shoppers understand that salumi, a category of cured meat products that encompasses salami and a host of other similar meats, “is the flavor bridge that brings all the cheese, olives and specialty items together on a charcuterie board.”

“The flavor and impact a slow-aged salami adds to a charcuterie pairing as well as to a sandwich made at home is what drives our artisan stewardship in everything we do,” Inada says.

Larger-format charcuterie trays, in particular, are seeing growing interest, says Gil Perales, marketing director for Oceanside, CA-based Olli Salumeria, “helped by COVID-19.”

“Charcuterie boards are definitely a big trend right now with so many varieties and ways to create them,” Perales says. “Big boards, charcuterie kits, grab-and-go charcuterie boxes, etc.”

Emanuela Bigi, marketing manager of Veroni USA, headquartered in Logan Township, NJ, says charcuterie is simply the best way to enjoy artisan salami and other salumi.

“While salumi is very versatile, artisanal products are best consumed on charcuterie boards or in recipes where the complex flavors of the meats are not covered up by breads and condiments,” Bigi says. “Simple pairings with cheese, crackers and other gourmet specialties allow for the most enjoyment and appreciation of the salumi.”

Dave Brandow, director of international sales for Piller’s Fine Foods, the Branford, Ontario, Canada, makers of Black Kassel products, says customers increasingly are getting inventive with the use of artisan salami as an ingredient.

“Salami as a snack is on the rise, as snacking continues to be more of today’s consumer eating habits,” Brandow says. “Salami provides a protein boost, is portable and can be combined with cheese, fruits and vegetables that can be shared.”

Deanna Depke, marketing manager for St. Louis-based Volpi Foods, says Volpi also is seeing creative uses of its salami by its fans. While charcuterie boards and sandwiches are the most-shared uses the company observes, she says, “we have seen adoption across all meal types. Fans now enjoy a breakfast scramble of roasted vegetables, eggs and salami slivers or a quick desk-lunch salad topped with a few slices of spicy sopressata to add some zing.”

Varieties Available

Bocchini says the artisan salami varieties in supermarket delis are increasing “every day,” from classic soppressata and dry sausage to flavored salami with truffle, mushroom, wine and whiskey.

The salami assortment in grocery stores has increased in recent years.

“We’ve seen grocery buyers react to the consumer demand for more than just standard Genoa salami and really embrace unique flavors like finocchiona or wine-infused varietals within their sets,” Depke says. “Retailers that embrace a consumer-centric lens have positioned their sets to capture the organic demand for artisan-made, high-quality salami.”

The market clearly is expanding, Bigi says.

“The number of artisan salami makers and brands continues to grow in the U.S., bringing new flavors and package formats to the market,” Bigi says. “Imported salami is gaining in popularity, as consumers appreciate the authenticity of products that come from the countries that originated them. In this sense, Italy covers an important role as it is associated with genuine good food, in particular charcuterie.”

Brandow says today’s consumers are looking for “flavor experiences from authentic products that have a rich history.” He adds that Americans are familiar with Italian versions of salami, but also are looking to explore salamis with different heritages and flavor experiences.

Brandow says artisan salami continues to evolve in part by reintroducing traditional varieties that have been around for centuries—amounting to a “rediscovery so to speak,” he says.

A consumer focus on sustainability and the sourcing of their foods is touching food categories throughout the marketplace, including artisan salami. Bocchini says, “clean label ingredients” are an influential trend in the market.

“Consumers are more attentive in reading the back label and wanting to know the origin and method of the product,” she says.

In response to that growing trend, Depke says Volpi refined its sourcing to improve transparency and animal welfare, resulting in its “Raised Responsibly” program.

“The trends we are seeing in our category are entirely consumer-driven, as younger generations explore the world of dry cured delicacies,” Depke says. “Millenials want to know everything about the product: Where does it come from? How was it made? Who crafted it?”

Packaging’s Role

Brandow says packaging plays a crucial role in consumer acceptance and use of salami products.

“Providing salami in various pre-sliced packages allows for consumers to grab these for use in home entertaining or maybe just an indulgent night for two with a complimentary wine, beer or sparkling fruit beverage,” Brandow says. “Also, single portion packs to go wherever life’s excursions take you.”

Olli Salumeria’s Perales agrees that an emphasis on convenience has become increasingly conspicuous in the artisan salami market.

“Pre-packed fresh slices are becoming the new normal,” Perales says. “With everyone on the go, the pre-sliced salami and grab-and-go snacks are what people are looking for.”

Sustainable packaging is also on the rise. Bigi says Veroni is launching a new line with 100% recyclable trays.

Depke notes Volpi introduced a paper-based substrate that allows the company to reduce single-use plastics within its pre-sliced assortment by 70%.

“If you’re not sprinting to environmentally-friendly packaging, you’re not listening to consumers,” Depke says.

Merchandising and
Cross Merchandising

Bocchini says salami typically is shelved next to cheese—”the perfect marriage, but we are also developing cross merchandising with wine and beer as well as dried fruits that more and more are becoming part of a charcuterie board for entertainment.”

Salami naturally pairs with a variety of other foods and beverages.

“Artisanal salami is fermented, and like other fermented foods and beverages, provides a complex flavor with initial notes followed by other nuances and finishing with other tones that take a bit to encompass your palate,” Brandow says.

Bigi says merchandising and cross merchandising can “create a destination and make a statement. Since there is no personal interaction, to make their purchase decisions, customers need to gather information from signage, dividers, product descriptors, branded packaging, etc.”

“Cross merchandising or promoting traditional deli meats with salumi, cheeses, breads, etc. creates ideas and solutions at the point of purchase,” Bigi says. “Product description/pairing signage for new and unique items is especially impactful, as are recipe cards and how to build a charcuterie board. [There is a] need to execute both in store and on the webpage where an increasing number of consumer impacts are made.”

Inada says Columbus Craft Meats’ merchandising approach is to educate shoppers how to purchase everything needed for their dining goals.

“We have enjoyed working with our marketplace partners to create charcuterie destinations where increased sales numbers have proven that creating a food-first, accessible solution around artisan products is something our shoppers will happily spend for,” Inada says.

Salami has the advantage of boasting a long shelf life, and Brandow notes that characteristic is not due to added chemicals. Instead, it’s a result of the traditional process of curing and drying that brings the water activity to a very low level.

By its nature, Depke says, salami is “the ultimate shelf-stable protein.”

“It was discovered out of necessity—to preserve meat over long periods of time without it spoiling,” she says. “Since those survival days, we’ve come a long way in terms of flavor and recipe development, but it remains that the shelf life of salami and all dry cured meats is the longest in the category.”

Looking Ahead

When Brandow considers what’s next for artisan salami, he points to a variety of new product formats with potential for growth, such as salami sticks, bites, nuggets and whips. He also points to salami being used in premade charcuterie boards or snack boxes that might be found at local cafés to enjoy with an espresso, latte or other barista specialties.

Overall, the future of artisan salami is compelling, Bocchini says.

“I believe that salami consumption, and dry-cured products in general, will keep growing in the next few years,” Bocchini says. “Companies need to adapt a little to the new [Millennial] trend and their particular requests and interests. But overall, it is a very healthy category to be in.”

Depke also believes the future is bright for artisan salami and other similar products.“Specialty meats have been outpacing conventional items for more than a decade and don’t show any signs of slowing down,” Depke says. “I expect to see less cooked turkey and ham varieties and more salami, prosciutto and pancetta items at supermarkets throughout the country. As younger consumers gain more purchasing power,  in delis that delay curating their assortments and staying current will lose out.” DB


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