Keeping Crackers at the Forefront

Distinguishing deli crackers from those in the grocery aisle is key

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Americans love crackers for their flavor, texture, health benefits and ability to pair with cheeses and spreads—and retailers love the sales boost they provide the deli department.

A strong variety, backed by smart merchandising, marketing and sampling, can encourage consumers to experiment with one of their favorite snack foods.

Joan MacIsaac, the co-owner of Effie’s Homemade in Hyde Park, MA, says that she and her team are seeing more crackers made with quality ingredients like whole grains, butter, olive oil and specific salts as the flavor enhancers. “We are also seeing unique grains, such as buckwheat, cornmeal, rye and even spent grains. The flavor of the grain is the key component, rather than a flavoring like an herb or spice.”

Effie’s products are “unique in that they appeal to a wide range of customers, from Baby Boomers to Millennials,” MacIsaac maintains. “Since our products are versatile and can be used as a cracker or tea biscuit, we find ourselves in many different shopping carts. One area that we have noticed growing and changing is with Millennial parents. They are buying our biscuits for wine and cheese nights and their children’s lunch boxes.”

The deli and cheese area of a supermarket is where special artisan-made products are merchandised and sold, MacIsaac points out. Her company’s biscuits are made with wholesome ingredients and produced in smaller batches, which helps to maintain quality. “The deli is a natural fit for our line. On the reverse side, our biscuits are the perfect pairing partner to other artisan products, such as cheeses, preserves and chocolates.”

The key selling point for Effie’s is sampling, MacIsaac continues. Effie’s provides free bite-sized samples in every case for departments to use for passive sampling. This, she feels, is key. “Sampling sells product and helps create loyal customers who come back to the deli month after month,” she says.

Since the inception of our company, we have placed a free tray of bite-sized samples in each deli case. The department managers use the samples for pairing and bingo, they sell our biscuits along with other artisan products.”

Crackers, biscuits, thins and crisps are the pairing partners for the cheeses, meats and spreads found in the deli, MacIsaac explains. These items are easier for the deli manager to maintain “since crackers don’t require refrigeration, they don’t spoil and the packages can stack on merchandising tables.” MacIsaac is convinced that a deli department can become a destination for crackers through a combination of strong merchandising and sampling. “There are thousands of products in a supermarket, and it’s difficult for a consumer to make purchasing decisions. Many consumers shop the deli specialty area because they expect to discover more quality and exciting products.”

Convenient and Healthy Options

James  R. Anderko, vice president sales and marketing for Venus Wafers, Inc. in Hingham, MA, says that current trends and new flavors include organic, vegan, enriched crackers (vitamins, whole grains), vegetable-based (broccoli, carrots) and both savory and hot and spicy flavors. “Millennials are looking at convenience and healthy options for snacking.” 

Indeed, Anderko continues, customers are shopping the perimeter of the store more frequently than center store. “Cracker options in the deli give these products greater exposure with consumers, since they’re shopping the perimeter more frequently. These crackers are easier to pair with cheeses while in the deli department.”

Crackers are merchandised above the deli cheese case with point of purchase materials, Anderko says, and cross merchandised with cheese, spreads and meats within the deli department. “Demos that pair with the crackers are terrific, either passively or with a demo person.” 

Displays that are merchandised within the deli department and/or next to cheese selections are the most successful. Strong promotions with discounts on crackers when purchased together with specific cheeses also is effective. Educating the consumer about which cheeses to pair with the crackers can help build sales, he adds, as do point-of-purchase display vehicles and providing healthy options, such as organic, non-GMO and vegan varieties.

Anderko is confident that retailers can, indeed, build cracker sales in their delis, though some do it better than others. “There are opportunities, not mistakes. Every store is different, with a variety of customers, but you can’t just place the crackers on top of the cheese case and expect the customers to purchase them.” His suggestion, “pair organic cheeses with organic crackers; select crackers that pair with those particular cheeses located in the cheese department. Promote the cheese, spreads and crackers together. Show the consumer how to use them and with which cheese and/or spreads.”

Offering a varied variety and keeping abreast of trends also is recommended.

“We see the interest in authentic sourdough, using traditional recipes, continuing to grow,” says Wendy Wilson Bett, co-owner and Joint MD of Peter’s Yard. “Our Fig crispbread has been particularly successful across the U.S., while our Caraway crispbread has found a particular niche of fans in the Northeast.”

Looking for ‘Ideal Pairing’

“Based on data and feedback from our buyers and customers, we are finding, not surprisingly, that deli customers are looking for the ideal pairing cracker,” says Karen Kartes Piatt, marketing and public relations specialist for Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co., based in Des Moines, WA. “They want these crackers in flavors that go well with everything, enhancing but not distracting from the foods they’re serving them with. There are also customers looking for high-quality crackers in distinctive flavors that can stand on their own.”

To meet both of these needs, Partners Crackers is offering a trio of popular flavors of artisan deli crackers: Roasted Garlic & Rosemary, Olive Oil & Sea Salt, and Everything & More. Piatt calls them “the tried and true flavors that buyers keep telling us are most appealing to and popular with their deli customers.”

Another clear trend, she says, is the increasing growth and popularity of deli departments in grocery stores. Delis “are rapidly becoming an important and desirable destination for cracker consumers.” Partners has enhanced its deli packaging and merchandising options significantly in the past year to make it easier for stores to sell to these customers.

“Last but not least,” Piatt says, “the trend toward consumers wanting cleaner, simpler ingredients is here to stay. Partners Crackers is committed to crafting all of our non-GMO crackers and other baked goods without hydrogenated oils, preservatives or artificial flavors. We encourage all consumers to read labels and stay informed about what’s going into their crackers, which are better for them with fewer and more natural ingredients.”

With their “increasingly on-the-go lifestyles,” deli customers also include people grabbing a quick, fresh meal “who feel compelled on impulse to try new, high-quality products that they happen to encounter in the deli,” Piatt finds. “The challenge for those of us in the cracker business is to offer products that appeal to all of these groups and to anticipate the type of customers and audiences that new and enhanced delis will attract.”

Partners has been focusing on creating multiple, time-saving, retailer-friendly display options specifically for the deli. Its merchandising basket allows for eight 4.4-ounce packages to be displayed in a two-across placement. The rustic artisan baskets are not only eye-catching to the consumer, but make setting up and restocking easy. 

“Additionally, we’ve introduced eight-unit display-ready cases with perforated tops for quick, easy and attractive presentation,” Piatt says. It also offers branded, 32-unit shipper towers that feature a small footprint, an optimal height that will not block visibility, and a flat top ideal for passive sampling in the supermarket deli and store perimeter.

Partners’ products are already distributed in all 50 states and Canada in grocery center store, but executives are “excited” for the growth opportunities in the evolving in-store delis and store perimeters. “We believe our artisan crackers are the perfect fit for deli consumers who are already searching for fresh, transparent, and convenient products that are on trend with their lifestyle,” says Piatt.

Finally, it’s creative thinking and pairing that will differentiate delis.

Making the connection between crackers, cheeses and dips inspires customers to think of them cohesively when they plan their dinner parties and gatherings, Bett at Peter’s Yard adds. “Positioning crackers near chips can be a mistake. Their usage occasions are different, with chips typically being an impulse buy, often with a single eater in mind, while crackers or crispbread are inherently intended for sharing and entertaining.”     DB