The Grab-and-Go Phenomenon

Ready-to-eat items have expanded the reach of today’s deli departments.

The grab-and-go segment has evolved over the years. As a result, supermarket delis are more diverse and have become more competitive with today’s restaurants.

Its higher-end offerings providing convenient and fast pick up include everything from charcuterie platters to prepared food and everything in between that not only entice shoppers for meals and snacks, but also for entertaining.

According to the Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA), grab-and-go deli meat sales growth topped 50.7% for the year ending Jan. 25, 2021.

“The grab-and-go segment is made up of items that offer convenient, portable solutions for consumers as they look to purchase smaller portion sizes either to take on the go or for better portion control at home,” says Ben Sutkiewicz, associate brand manager, Sabra Dipping Co., White Plains, NY. “More recently, trends in the segment have been leaning towards functional foods, meaning they provide a benefit to the consumer, i.e., protein for satiety, as consumers are looking for solutions that are quick and healthy. Additionally, many consumers are becoming more interested in incorporating plant-based eating into their diets, and it is having an impact on shopping choices.”

A Developing Segment

The grab-and-go segment continues to evolve and expand, as more products are thrown into the mix.


Yet, there are certain criteria for these lucrative items.

Also, with the rise of meal kits, the grab-and-go section in the supermarket deli has become even more significant.

“Supermarkets have a unique advantage for their convenience sections as they have unlimited access to fresh produce and homemade recipes, so the deli operators can curate a custom selection of locally-based snack options,” says Kali Kinziger, associate product manager, Placon, Fitchburg, WI. “Thinking of the deli department, there are numerous types of slaws, salads and pastas allowing the customer to have to choose from an assorted offering rather than one option.”

The fresh perimeter nature of snacking in the deli has the potential to attract a younger consumer base.

“We’ve witnessed a shifting mentality towards leveraging the deli grab-and-go to drive traffic and increase shopping occasions in the same way a c-store leverages healthy grab-and-go options to steal fast casual business with younger generations,” says Katie Baldwin, brand marketing manager, Atalanta Corp., Elizabeth, NJ. “We’ve seen more interest in snacking cheeses in the past few years. The pandemic also shifted behaviors in this section, with less shoppers traveling, going to the office or school and, therefore, less eating on the go.”


In the supermarket deli department, the grab-and-go segment is different for every eating occasion.

“Regarding cheese, for snacking it is all about individually-wrapped packages; for sandwiches it is all about pre-sliced cheeses, and for entertaining, the grab-and-go segment is about being accessible,” says Debbie Seife, marketing manager, FrieslandCampina, The Netherlands. “All need to be in an easy to shop and display format.”

This segment also is often defined by location and packaging type.

“The same product—say, macaroni salad—could be available behind the glass in the deli case, on shelf in a 3-pound container and in a 10-ounce container next to the rotisserie chicken,” says Nathan Roe, senior manager, Deli Strategy & Shopper Marketing, Reser’s Fine Foods, Beaverton, OR. “Of these, we would consider the 10-ounce product part of the retailer’s grab-and-go offering. If that 10-ounce item is also shelved in a standard case, however, it could be considered a part of both segments.”

Where consumers are buying salads and side dishes has changed, with a shift away from the deli case and toward packaged versions of the same or similar recipes.

“It seems there are more options but no standard set,” says Roe. “Many retailers have developed significant grab-and-go sections within the deli, and some have been able to carve out territory near the checkout lanes or at the front of the store. The core grab-and-go items for salads and side dishes, however, are still the ones most-favored in the traditional locations—mashed potatoes, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and chicken salad.”

The segment has grown to include more freshly-prepared items beyond snacks like chips, nuts and crackers.

“And while there has been a lot of innovation in bento-style boxes, consumers still enjoy cheese as a grab-and-go item paired with these freshly-prepared offerings,” says Kevin Rider, senior brand manager, Andrew & Everett, Mechanicsburg, PA.

This is because customers are looking for a well-balanced combination with grab-and-go items in the deli department.

“More and more we have seen the offering expand and move from the classic meat and cheese pairing to a more evolved combination of products to include dried fruit, nuts, jam, etc.,” says Simone Bocchini, COO and president at Fratelli Beretta USA, Inc., South Hackensack, NJ.

Historically, this category has included foods for immediate consumption, but that’s not the case currently.

“More of what we’re seeing is products developed for convenience, not only to eat in the near future, but food that can be eaten immediately,” says Matthew Sade, founder/CEO, Freeli Foods, Oakland, CA.

There are a number of new packaging innovations being developed for grab-and-go products.

“For us, the biggest push we see is on sustainable or recyclable packaging,” says Heather Iafrate, general manager, marketing, Norseland Inc., U.S. distributor of Old Amsterdam, Stamford, CT.

Supermarkets now utilize traditional clear deli packaging to advertise and differentiate in-house grab-and-go offerings as ‘original’, ‘homemade’ and ‘artisan’ to grab the attention of shoppers within stores.

“Consumers demand transparency in every aspect of the purchase cycle, from food ingredients to an organization’s social responsibility. As product offerings grow, viewing products, along with labels, is paramount,” says Mary Klakulak-Sclafani, vice president of market innovation strategy, Genpak, Charlotte, NC. “The days of placing fresh food in packaging that obstructs consumers’ view is no longer acceptable.”

Staples & Launches

There are a number of staple grab-and-go items in delis, along with new launches to heighten visibility of this lucrative segment. Popular items include fresh dips paired with carriers, single servings of dips and compartmentalized snacking options, including meats, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, etc.

“Vinegar-based snacks like snacking olives or snacking pickles have garnered interest in the past few years,” says Baldwin at Atalanta. “This trend will likely continue, as interest in functional foods has grown and health and wellness remain top of mind.”

Sabra’s portfolio contains a number of products offering convenience and pre-portioned snacking. These include Classic and Roasted Red Pepper 2-ounce Hummus Singles as well as a variety of Hummus Snackers (Classic with Pretzels, Classic with Pita Chips, Roasted Red Pepper with Pretzels, Garlic with Pretzels, and Dark Chocolate Dip with Pretzels).

Sabra has introduced a few new items in the grab-and-go segment in the last year. Most notably, Sabra Kids Plant-Based Snack Kits, available in two varieties: Brownie Batter Dip with Graham Crackers and Taco Dip with Rolled Tortilla Chips.

Cheese snacks have been around but the snacking segment in the deli is expanding with new varieties, including imports.

FrieslandCampina has introduced Royal Hollandia, offering imported Gouda, Smoked Flavored Gouda and Chili Pepper from Holland.

A new category is also being launched called Entry Packs. The company has six varieties under Royal Hollandia and Parrano.

“We have launched an entire new size of cheese for the deli, ranging from 3.5 to 4 ounces,” says Seife. “This new entry point allows consumers to try cheeses in smaller sizes and at smaller price points.”

In terms of packaging innovations, FrieslandCampina is making its snack pouch from fully recyclable paper.

“The cheese sliced packages are a bottom tray with peel and resealable top film and offered in a shelf-ready package as well as peg holes for easy merchandising,” Seife says.

It’s important to note that the consumer attracted to grab-and-go items does not want to spend a lot of time in the section.

“For deli salads, potato, macaroni and chicken salads are the most popular varieties in all sizes, and for most occasions,” says Reser’s Roe. “The deli case contains more pasta salads than the packaged set, and we are seeing more options from that segment gain traction. As for side dishes, we have seen a rise in meal deals and value bundles that include a protein and a side or sides. This part of the grab-and-go segment has been around for years, and many retailers have used this concept to anchor programs with more options to keep shoppers in the store (and in the deli) rather than returning to restaurant dining.”

The company recently launched a single, 3.5-ounce portion of its Garden Pasta salad in response to increasing demand for single-serving sizes. The ready-to-eat salad is made with mini penne pasta, red bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and shredded cheeses in a zesty vinaigrette dressing, with no artificial flavors or colors.

Norseland has introduced Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda bites in 12.7-ounce bags. The all-natural cheese bites are made of 100% Old Amsterdam Gouda Cheese with a smooth, rich flavor.

Andrew & Everett’s grab-and-go offerings include Cheese Snack Bars and Cheese Sticks & String Cheese in a variety of flavors like Sharp Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Colby Jack and Mozzarella.

The company’s 2-ounce Cheese Snack Bar for larger portion size snacking is a line extension from its 1-ounce Snack Sticks. Andrew & Everett’s 1-ounce Cheese Snack Sticks & String Cheese and 2-ounce Cheese Snack Bars are available in display-ready caddies, which take up limited shelf space.

Fratelli Beretta USA offers a grab-and-go product line featuring small trays from 2.5 to 3.5 ounces in total weight. It has 27 different varieties of products in this category.

Adding convenience to popular products also has helped expand the supermarket deli grab-and-go space.

“If we can take ingredients and further add value, we should do that,” says Sade at Freeli Foods. “We now have egg bites and slices of frittata as a result.”

Don’s Prepared Food, based in Schwenksville, PA, is offering more prepack grab-and-go items. These include all-natural and traditional artisan deli salads.

“Our goal is to put innovative items into grab-and-go packaging,” says Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development at Don’s Prepared Food.

The company has launched a line of bowl meals as well as six clean label dips with a 28-day shelf life.

Venus Wafers, based in Hingham, MA, has had a lot of interest in bulk, bite-size crackers that are placed in grab-and-go trays with cheese or fruit for lunch or as a snack.

“With grab-and-go products, the simpler, the better,” says James Anderko, Venus Wafers’ vice president of sales of marketing. “And it’s best to keep the price point as competitive as possible.”

Staple grab-and-go items at George DeLallo Co. Inc., based in Mt. Pleasant, PA, include pitted olives, marinated artichokes, roasted peppers and colorful antipasto salads.

“Not only do these items make for healthy snacks and tasty additions to charcuterie trays and cheese boards, but they are flavorful gourmet ingredients, too,” says Giuliana Pizzuto, marketing director. “The more versatile the item, the more reasons customers have to grab them up.”

DeLallo’s new pre-packaged multi-compartment trays feature a curated collection of olive and antipasto items. Available in sizes for both smaller and larger gatherings, trays feature three to four individual items.

Sandridge Food Corp., Medina, OH, introduced a new line of spring salads in rigid packaging that is reusable.

“Trends are in comfort foods, nothing too off the beaten path, as people want classic dishes,” says Julie Jones, marketing coordinator at Sandridge Food.

Up and coming grab-and-go items include meal-prep kits, food with cleaner labels and more natural foods.

There have been continuous packaging innovations within the segment. Genpak’s leakproof deli packaging helps operators ensure that food remains fresh and secure.

“Tamper-evident packaging is a trending innovation that gives consumers piece of mind and helps retailers ensure that items are presented and sold safely,” says Klakulak-Sclafani at Genpak. “Compartmentalized deli packaging is an innovation that allows supermarkets to cohesively present meal and snack options.”

Genpak’s APET Deli containers help provide a longer shelf life. The container’s structural integrity serves as a defense against oxygen and prolongs the lifespan of food items.

Harvest Choice, Genpak’s newest sustainable packaging solution, is made from 100% recycled board. This container aligns with overall consumer preference for more eco-friendly packaging and waste reduction. USDA BioPreferred and recyclable, the PFAS-free container is a versatile packaging grab-and-go solution for sandwiches, salads and sides.

When it comes to fresh, ready-to-eat items like salads, Placon’s innovations focus on security features like tamper-evident lids or film-sealing, and material composition to maintain freshness.

“Grab-and-go offerings have driven the demand for tamper-evidence because more food items are pre-packaged and purchased separately from the deli counter,” Kinziger says. “With curbside pick-up and increased delivery, people want to ensure their food has not been tampered with since the initial package date. We thermoform our stock salad bowls with EcoStar, a post-consumer PET material made from curbside recyclables and ocean-bound plastic. Our new OxyStar material is a high-barrier sheet that increases the shelf-life of food products with an oxygen scavenging agent to prevent moisture and oxygen transmission. Placon recommends using a high-barrier material for all grab-and-go items, especially food items with high fat and protein content. Additionally, OxyStar is the first barrier material that has a #1 resin code, meaning it is recyclable.”

Placon’s newest addition to its multi-compartment product offering is its Crystal Seal reFresh Parfait Cups. The parfait line is made from EcoStar material, which contains 75% or greater, post-consumer PET recycled content. These multi-compartment cups are recyclable, crystal clear and can mix and match each base and insert tray. The parfait line offers an 8- or 12-ounce size base, that comes with a flat, dome or pedestal lid option. Each base has a tamper evident hinge that keeps product safe until the consumer is ready to open the package. Insert trays fit securely inside each base, so that wet and dry ingredients can remain separated and mixed in later. Parfait Cups offer a single or two compartment tray that separates ingredients. The base was designed to fit securely into a standard car cup holder.

Selling Convenience

Given the limitation of secondary displays for fresh items, shelf signage is a great way to call attention to new items to raise awareness and trial.

“I believe the future of grab-and-go will be determined directly by the consumers,” says Sabra’s Sutkiewicz. “As more consumers move towards functional benefits and plant-based eating, it will directly impact the kind of innovation that brands create and bring to the marketplace. Furthermore, with more consumers working from home in a hybrid work environment, the need for convenient, healthy lunch solutions is even greater, as workers don’t have an ‘in-home cafeteria’ to solve the lunchtime occasion.”

Placement can sometimes be a challenge in delis, where space is at a premium.

“We’ve found that supermarket delis want grab-and-go items but don’t have a dedicated space for specialty cheese snack items,” says Norseland’s Iafrate. “The snack cheese items are most often in the deli cooler with wedges, wheels and shreds of other cheese types. I think we will see a merchandising shift towards dedicated grab-and-go sections for specialty cheese items.”

Reser’s uses marketing communication tactics to educate, inform and create incentives for consumers to learn about and buy its products. Given the recent changes in shopping and consumption behaviors, the company has been adapting in-store vehicles to online environments.

Cross merchandising is very effective in bringing attention to grab-and-go items.

Andrew & Everett’s Cheese Snack Sticks & String Cheese can be effectively marketed in a secondary grab-and-go set at the check-out counter as an impulse buy, along with beverages.

Venus Wafers’ lines are best positioned by pairing items, such as soup or hummus.

“We see front-of-store displays in more markets where essentials and accessory items are placed conveniently for shoppers to have an efficient visit,” says Kinziger at Placon. “Employing a cross merchandising tactic such as snacks and meal kits next to drinks and other seasonal items can be effective for upselling. By complementarily grouping items, the customers are more likely to make an impulse purchase they think they might need.”

Looking ahead, fresh, pre-prepared foods will continue to thrive as retailers introduce new food options that align with consumer demand.

Klakulak-Sclafani at Genpak predicts supermarkets will also expand and re-evaluate how to present self-service warm/cold salad and meal bars.

“The growth of deli will help supermarkets attract customers, increase sales and obtain consumer loyalty,” Klakulak-Sclafani says. “Implementing reusable and/or recyclable packaging will be critical for supermarket delis, given the eco-friendly direction of legislature and consumer preference. Overall, packaging is the anchor to presenting and selling food packaging solutions. Packaging will continue to become more innovative and convenient to effectively showcase supermarket deli products.”

“The pandemic created an opportunity for supermarkets to revisit their meal programs, particularly with an eye for competing against restaurants,” says Reser’s Roe. “Grab-and-go is a point of differentiation and advantage that supermarkets can offer, particularly when the shopper is already at the store for other needs.” DB

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