Turkey Stays on Top

Due to its widespread appeal and healthier profile, turkey remains a top seller in today’s delis

It’s time to talk a little turkey.

And why not, given that more shoppers are eating it up.

According to data published in Chicago-based Winsight Grocery Business’ “Consumer Perishable Databook,” when it comes to meat over the deli counter, with a share of 34.6 percent, turkey is even more popular than ham.

Taste has something to do with it. Jaline Isidor Horta, an associate in the marketing department at Cibao Meat Products in The Bronx, NY, says their turkey has a nice golden brown to it. “It’s juicy and easily sliced, and people seem to prefer it over our chicken. At demos, our in-house slicer just slices right through (the meat),” which is cooked skinless and browned in oil. “Customers like the taste and texture.”

While Evan Inada, customer marketing manager at Columbus Craft Meats, part of Hormel Foods in Austin, MN, says the company always strives to satisfy its customers’ taste buds by providing deli items using whole turkey breast and natural juices to provide a home-cooked flavor and texture, he thinks flavor tends to play second fiddle to what meats like turkey are made of. “They want to know that what’s going into their bodies is healthy,” he says.

Healthy Has It

According to Livestrong.com, sliced turkey is the healthiest deli meat. It’s low in calories, fat and sodium and is the lowest-calorie option, with 22 calories per 1-ounce slice.

Health claims continue to be popular.  This will include low/reduced fat and low sodium.  Sodium content works against ham, and a lower natural fat content works to the advantage of turkey, says William Knudson, professor in the department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University in Lansing.

Packaging, of course, also can help generate the attention of customers. Horta says Cibao’s labeling on its packaged turkey is based on rich colors, including blue and black, with gold lettering “to make it look prestigious and stand out above other products. It gives it a little pop.”

Safety also is a factor in packaging. Columbus Craft Meats makes safety a priority, remarks Inada. “We’ve transitioned all of our deli meat items to grip-and-tear packaging, so that a knife is no longer needed behind the deli counter and to avoid cross contamination.” 

Packaging Pays Dividends

Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Foods’ 2017 sustainability report shows product packaging helps ensure food quality and safety and offers protection during transit, extends shelf life, and communicates important nutrition and safe-handling information to consumers.

Consumers may see packaging as an attractive and informative container for fresh and processed meat and poultry, reports the Washington, D.C.-based USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. However, because it touches the food, packaging is considered an indirect additive. That’s because chemicals in packaging can migrate into the food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves all food packaging materials. Any material intended for use in food packaging must be formulated in compliance with FDA requirements for its intended use. The manufacturer of a new material must petition FDA and provide data proving the material is safe to use if it is not already regulated for the proposed use.

Meat and poultry products may not be packaged in a container composed of any substances that may adulterate the contents or be injurious to health. Packaging materials entering a meat or poultry plant must be accompanied or covered by a guaranty or statement of assurance from the packaging supplier

In recent years, the packaging of sliced turkey improved markedly, with most now featuring a peek-a-boo window, according to Mike Hudson Distributing, based in Petaluma, CA. The window allows consumers to view the selection of fresh, prepackaged deli meats before they purchase, which has increased sales of pre-packaged deli meats.

The Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) What’s in Store 2019 reports that two-thirds of consumers want nutritional information by the item or spoon size, rather than by the ounce or as a percentage of the daily value, while 64 percent want the information prominently highlighted on grab-and-go items. Delis can also help point out better options for the calorie counter.

Packaging also can pay dividends at the cash register. Smithfield’s Prime Fresh line offers consumers premium deli-quality meats already packaged and at affordable prices. The proprietary, minimalist packaging, designed to look like the meat was just sliced at the deli counter, keeps it fresher longer. The bagged packaging also uses 31 percent less packaging than the conventional tubs that hold other pre-sliced deli meats, which provides a host of sustainability benefits, such as fewer transportation miles (due to more product able to fit on trucks) and less waste sent to landfill.

Delis also can promote turkey by emphasizing that, as the IDDBA states, the fewer the pieces of turkey muscle used to form the turkey breast, the better the quality. Processors have developed cured turkey versions of other deli products, such as turkey ham, turkey pastrami, turkey salami and turkey bologna.

Another tactic that’s paying dividends for Cibao is hitting the airwaves with a commercial to promote several of its products, including deli turkey. The spot portrays these as healthier alternatives, says Horta. “Our commercial is basically a few kids playing basketball and then they come home to these nice sandwiches with our products in it.”  

But it’s not all about publicity. The store also leverages social media, she says. “A dish of that particular product by itself in a sandwich or some kind of food setting and then the product being shown out of the picture that people can see and associate with our logo [are effective].”

Ease of use and eye-catching features are key to packaging as much as a freshness message, says IDDBA’s trends report.

Once shoppers walk through the front door, Cibao now offers in-store sampling. “What we have been doing now is sampling in-store. That way, it all goes hand in hand; people can taste the product and then also buy it,” remarks Horta. DB