A Special Place for Specialty

When successfully implemented, specialty meats can create a destination in the department

Today’s delis are increasingly becoming a place for more out of the ordinary products, especially when it comes to meats.

The beauty of specialty meats? “Their simplicity,” says Deanna Depke, marketing manager for Volpi Foods, headquartered in St. Louis.

Volpi’s prosciutto, for instance, is made with the highest quality fresh pork and coarse sea salt – “and nothing else,” Depke notes. For salami recipes, the goal is to limit each spice batch to about five ingredients, ensuring the flavors complement one another without overpowering the accoutrements that consumers usually consume alongside charcuterie, she continues. Consumers want products with no shortcuts, no synthetic nitrates or nitrites, and no skimping.

The Demand

About two-thirds of consumers purchase specialty foods, leading the industry to $140.3 billion in retail and foodservice sales in 2017, an 11 percent increase over 2015, according to the State of the Specialty Food Industry 2018 report, published by the New York City-based Specialty Food Association in collaboration with Mintel. Retail dollar sales for specialty foods grew 12.9 percent during that time period, versus 1.4 percent for all food. Plant-based categories dominate the top four spots and are expected to grow over the next five years.

For the past few years, there’s been what Evan Inada, customer marketing manager at Columbus Craft Meats, part of Hormel Foods in Austin, MN, describes as a “huge demand” for traditional Italian deli in the marketplace. “People across the country are looking for traditional salame to enhance all of their sandwiches in the deli. With the trending prepared deli offerings like flatbreads, paninis and toasts, thin-sliced salami and super premium deli meats are the perfect items to highlight behind the glass.”     

Then there’s the fact that people flat out like to snack, Depke points out. “It has been a game-changer in Volpi’s ability to introduce these products to new audiences and convert them to everyday users.”

According to a report from Mintel, Snacking Motivations and Attitudes U.S., nearly all Americans (94 percent) snack at least once a day. What’s more, half of adults snack two to three times per day, with 70 percent agreeing that anything can be considered a snack these days. Mintel’s research is pointing to the pervasive nature of snacking, as only a year ago 64 percent of consumers said they often snack between meals, according to Mintel’s report.

Mintel’s The Fifty highlights that more frequent snacking might be supplanting standard daily meals. Americans also claim a preference for healthier snacking, with 33 percent saying they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year, specifically those with simple ingredients and low calorie counts. However, they most often snack to satisfy a craving (62 percent), highlighting the important role taste and flavor play on snacking behavior.

The rise in snacking has forced a shift in how supermarkets structure their stores. Best in class stores are pushing for a ‘better for you’ snacking section included toward the front of the store, allowing consumers to quickly pick up a fresh lunchtime snack. “Grab-and-go is a top priority. Placing our Roltini Singles beside the fresh juice or kombucha is a great way to cross merchandise and increase basket rings,” Depke adds.

Convenience in Packaging

But it’s not all about snacking, not when shopper convenience is at stake. David Brandow, director, international sales, at Piller’s Fine Foods in Waterloo, Ontario, says Piller’s launched a new resealable type package with a non-zipper package format, which he says is exceedingly prevalent and well known in the U.S. “It’s almost like a label,” he notes. “It’s easy peal, with a small tab at the bottom of the package. You just peel that up and it opens up a cavern, so to speak, in the package. People reach in and grab a couple of whips or slices of the product, depending on what they purchase, and then simply put that label back down overtop, and it reseals.”

People also seek ease, including with pealibity as well as reseability, and sustainable packaging, says Jeff Brandenburg, president of The JSB Group, a consultant for the flexible, produce and food packaging industries. “(The emphasis is on) something that’s recyclable, potentially compostable and made from a renewable resource. Those are the kinds of areas where you begin to see differentiation in innovation.”

New convenient consumer packaging makes it easy for the consumer to use or take home or take on the go, which consumers are looking for, says Brandow.

Conveying the Message

More broadly, Volpi recognizes the importance of reaching out to the next generation of consumers. To help enable that initiative, it established a strong partnership with the U. S. Soccer Federation, which they plan to fully leverage during the Women’s World Cup and Send Off Series this summer, explains Depke. “We’ve partnered with key retailers in high-power markets to build out integrated marketing campaigns around the series, featuring unique merchandising displays in-store, digital media campaigns and experiential events [highlighting these products].”

While it’s not allowed in soccer, Brandow describes how he tackled the issue of shelf space with a buyer, to whom he introduced his company’s product line. “The main pushback or concern that they have of bringing on products is they don’t have enough counter space.” But because many of Brandow’s Black Kassel’s company’s products dry aged and, therefore, shelf stable, “we can put them on display racks that they have in store. They can put them on attractive baskets that are on top of their existing counters or bunkers, or on top of the service deli counter and the knee knocker displays in front of the counter where they have the bread offerings.”

What’s more, unused room in the store can accommodate products, leading to more sales per square foot, he adds. “It’s a way to bring on new products without taking something out that’s already in place,” says Brandow.

Highlighting Products

Once customers are in the store, Hormel uses the proper point of sale materials that highlight its products and pair suggestions for shoppers, essentially prompting them to create a “grocerant-worthy sandwich at home,” says Inada.

Speaking of attracting the attention of shoppers, Brandow says that, prior to meeting the buyer, he visited one of his stores, where he saw a display of artisanal breads and buns, which Brandow says his company’s product would complement well. “If our products were displayed right next to them, a consumer would say, ‘Wow! Artisanal breads, artisanal deli meats, okay I get it. These two should go together.’ So, they buy one of each at the same time.”

Brandow also suggested his products, which are fermented like fine cheeses and wines, could be displayed in the buyer’s wine department. “You can have a display of some Cabernets or other red wines and position our sliced salami or meat snacks next to it.” When someone is looking for some wine and sees some fine salami, he notes, it could spark a sale.

In the meantime, Depke notes a shift over recent years toward pre-packaged specialty meat products. “Convenience plays a part in this demand, but also the ability of the consumer to connect with the package directly; understanding what the ingredients are—and what they aren’t—also plays a significant role.” As consumers become more discerning about the products they purchase, she continues, they want to know the story behind the salame. “A prepackaged format allows for that direct contact,” he says. DB