Snack Attack

How supermarket delis can improve sales of this evolving category

Cheese crackers with camembert,cranberry,fig and herb. Festive and Chrstmas food.

In the U.S., snacks represent a $51 billion industry, with new products accounting for approximately 5 percent of sales in the category. 

There’s no shortage of snacks available in the supermarket, but the chips, cookies and crackers that line the grocery aisles are not the only ones that today’s shoppers are on the lookout for. In fact, the snack category is getting a big boost thanks to sales of items in the deli section of the store.

Most of these snacks are often presented to be a more premium option than what would be found in the snack aisle, such as organic veggie chips, a brioche muffin or a gourmet cookie. Most of these products are also individually wrapped and packaged to be eaten on the go. 

Paul Baker, co-founder of UK-based St Pierre Groupe, says convenience is clearly a huge driver when it comes to today’s snack offerings and those being sold in the deli department.

“While all Americans have adopted on-the-go lifestyles, we really see GenZ leading the snacking craze,” he says. “They’re replacing meals with more snacks throughout the day. For this reason, we see snackable and craveable handheld items like muffins, Danish, croissants, scones, biscuits, bagels and rolls experiencing more growth.”

In response to this growing trend, St Pierre Groupe has recently launched a new line of on-the-go products that consist of individually-wrapped European snacks like cake bars, shortbread bars, waffles and crepes.

Jason Bross, president of Lifestyle Foods, headquartered in York, PA, says recent trends in snacking items are an uptick on value-driven snacks with fresh foods that are highly visible food displayed in the packaging. He’s also says extended shelf life for snacks are becoming popular.

“We have made recent changes to our packaging to reflect this demand, adding to the shelf life of our products,” he says. “In the deli section, there has been more space on the shelves allocated to the category, which is why an extended shelf life is important.”

Jeremy Johnson, general manager of Encore Specialty Foods, based in Hingham, MA, sells a fair amount of Italian crostini snacks in the deli department as well as pita chips and olives.

“We are seeing more and more products available in the snack category, and what I’m noticing is new and different packaging that attracts consumers,” he says. “A lot of what I see that is doing well are crackers with things on them, like seeds or sea-salt chunks on top instead of baked into the dough.”

Single-serve, grab-and-go snacks are also on the rise, because portion control is a bigger need for many consumers today. To respond to this trend, Encore Specialty Foods has a line of olives in 1-ounce packaging that does very well in the supermarket snack segment.

“This has become something really good for us; it’s an alternative to a lot of the junk food that’s out there, like potato chips, so when a consumer goes to pick up a soup or sandwich from the deli for lunch, now they have more options than they used to have on the side,” says Johnson. “They can grab our olives, and people are just trending towards making better choices.”

Health & Wellness

As consumers shift away from a traditional diet mindset in pursuit of health and wellness, brands previously marketed as “thin,” “lean” or “skinny” are embracing new descriptors, such as “smart.” This has helped drive sales in the category. 

The St Pierre Groupe has seen the snack category experience a lot of innovation because of its recent health and wellness initiatives. 

“Consumers are actively seeking out snacks that are free of artificial ingredients,” says Baker. “For us, we believe bakery snacks with real ingredients just taste better, which is why all St Pierre products are non-GMO and free from trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.”

Johnson has noticed an increase in the amount of organic snacks, which is a segment that has been growing for a long time. 

“When I look at the deli department today, what I see from competitors is more of this organic segment,” he says. “Also, products that have claims of health benefits, so that’s something that we have put a bigger focus on, as well.”

Lifestyle Foods’ best-selling item as a company is the Hollywood Snack. It’s comprised of apples, grapes, cheese cubes and honey wheat pretzel sticks, and it fits in well with the health and wellness trend.

It also is a good snacking product for school-aged kids, as parents like the healthy food aspect and the kids enjoy the different flavors coming together in one package. With kids making up a majority of snack consumers, this is an important product, Bross says.

Johnson feels the trend of healthier products only works if the product is good in terms of taste. 

“One thing we’re always discussing when we’re considering new items, obviously packaging is important and the call-outs are important in terms of health benefits and calories, so those things can make a consumer try a product once, which is great, but if it doesn’t taste very good, they are not going to buy it again,” he says. “It’s great to have a product that will drive consumers in, but in order to be sustainable, what’s inside the new innovative packaging has to be of good quality for people to come back.”

New to the Shelves

Jessica Brown, marketing manager for Yutacan Foods, based in Los Angeles, says the company recently began offering Yucatan Guacamole Squeeze, a first-of-its-kind packaged guacamole product in a flexible squeeze pouch that allows for greater usage convenience and extended shelf-life for reduced waste.

“This is the perfect snack for anyone looking for guacamole convenience,” she says. “There are no spoons or bowl required, so there’s no mess. The air-tight seal prevents oxygen from entering the pouch, which means you get green guacamole for up to 10 days.”

Brown notes the product’s unique design improves its delivery, with an innovative cap and nozzle transforming guacamole from mainly a dip to a healthier condiment option, thus expanding the entire market for guacamole.

“Like guacamole, the condiment category is seeing expansive growth, driven by consumers looking for healthy products with high-quality ingredients and plant-based spreads,” she says. “Yucatan Guacamole Squeeze addresses these unmet consumer needs with this innovative packaging design.”

A new snack product that Encore Specialty Food will release later this year is a line of focaccia flatbread snacks coming in from Italy. Essentially a cracker, it’s based on the tradition of focaccia so it offers a high olive-oil content and looks like focaccia flatbread. 

“We’re very excited about that. We’re always looking for new olive or antipasti items as well to sell by the pound behind the deli case,” says Johnson. “It’s something we are always looking to expand.”

Marketing Matters

Knowing that consumers are seeking convenience, transparency and value, Baker notes delis can use descriptive language to call out the quality of snack products while offering a discount for a value meal. 

For example, a sandwich, drink and choice of snack for a set price or a protein, two sides and bakery snack for a set price improves the appeal. 

“When we launched our new on-the-go range, we created standing and countertop racks to drive awareness to our products,” says Baker. “These displays paired with our hard-to-miss orange packaging can help attract shoppers to the deli section.”

While certain stores do a better job than others, Johnson notes one thing he hears a lot from supermarket deli buyers is they don’t have enough space. And even if they love the item and want to have it in their department, the lack of space can keep it from happening.

“Finding more space is key both for companies like ourselves who want to get our products into the supermarket delis, and also for buyers at the store level to creatively find the space and better merchandise, to have more options available for the consumer,” he says. “There has to continue to be more creative ways to merchandise around the deli space, such as with baskets or butcher-block table displays, and pushing the envelope.”

A veteran in the industry, Bross has seen a lot of marketing and merchandising measures come and go through the years, but one thing that is a staple of good sales involves keeping snacks where people can see them.

“If they are eye level standing up, it’s our experience the products have higher levels of sell through,” he says. “For the snacks that are in the deli section, rather than the grocery aisle, they are more sold for on-demand consumption. It is a mixture of perishable/non-perishable healthier items in the packaging.”

To be successful in the snack category, Bross says it’s vital a deli display a core offering of items with proven success, while rotating in different varieties regularly.    DB