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Casting itself as a champion of consumer choice, Philadelphia-based deli meat supplier Dietz & Watson is slicing into Sarasota, Fla.-based Boar’s Head with a full-bore challenge to discontinue its historical practice of demanding exclusivity as the premium deli brand in supermarket delis.
Although Boar’s Head’s longstanding all-or-nothing game plan that is common knowledge in the trade and has arguably served as a key ingredient for helping it achieve its top-ranked premium deli supplier status, rival Dietz & Watson president Lou Eni is taking the former’s “anti-choice” practice public in the wake of being given the boot in recent weeks by Harris Teeter.
After stewing over a dozen Harris Teeter stores in the Charlotte, N.C., area that dropped Dietz & Watson products this spring to make way for Boar’s Head -- which refuses to allow another premium deli meat competitor to sell alongside it in the deli case (which, if memory serves, also includes retailers’ own premium private label deli products) -- Eni said customer reaction inspired him to challenge Boar’s Head’s “selfish practice of exclusivity that needs to stop.”
Discussions about Harris Teeter’s deli-brand switch -- both pro and con – have touched off spirited debate on chat boards on popular local food-oriented blogs such as Chow.com. Comments from frustrated consumers on Chowhound boards included: “This is awful”; “The only choice was no choice at all”; and “Lack of choice sucks.” A local newspaper covering the deli dust-up quoted a Harris Teeter spokeswoman as saying that making the change was a “difficult decision,” despite the fact that customers enjoyed Dietz & Watson products, which she called “outstanding.”
“It was a decision, frankly, that they never should have had to make,” said Eni. “Harris Teeter is a terrific grocer, and we have been proud to sell our products in their stores.” Likening the scenario to Coke refusing to allow Pepsi to be sold in the same stores, Eni says it all comes down to giving consumers choice.
“Dietz & Watson has never shied away from competition -- we’ve been producing the finest deli meats and cheeses for 70 years,” said Eni, adding that the privately held family company “would never -- ever -- consider demanding that grocery stores carry only our premium products at the exclusion of others. We want to win on quality and taste, not by cutting off competitors. That disrespects consumers. Yet that’s exactly what Boar’s Head has been doing to grocery store chains across the country -- essentially telling grocers, ‘If you want to sell our product, you can’t offer your customers any other premium choices.’”
In turn, Dietz & Watson’s CEO pledges never to demand exclusivity, and is calling for Boar’s Head to take the same pledge, “to compete like everyone else. After all, if they believe their products are superior, what’s to be afraid of? Choice is good. It’s what all customers deserve.”
When asked to weigh in, a representative at Boar’s Head had no comment.