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    Profitability on a Platter

    Prepared deli platters are a growing category that takes the hassle out of planning the perfect event.

    Deli platters may make up just a small percentage of overall deli department sales (less than 2 percent), but they continue to show strong growth, up 6 percent in dollars and 4.7 percent in volume compared with a year ago, according to Chicago-based Nielsen Perishables Group. 

    The growth of the $446.6 million deli platter category demonstrates one more opportunity for retailers to meet their customers’ needs with quick and easy restaurant substitutes.

    “Retailers must continue to close the gap between restaurants and in-store offerings–whether that’s in the quality or amount of options from which to choose, the experience around the purchase, or making it easy for the consumer to get the same delicious flavors and fresh tastes in-store as they would in a restaurant,” said Sarah Schmansky, director of Nielsen Perishables Group. “They also need to make it easy for the consumer to identify entertaining products and how they can satisfy a need.”

    To help draw consumers into retailers’ deli and prepared food department to meet their entertaining needs, Schmansky pointed to several approaches, including: offering deals and specials focused on specific times of day (weekly meal deals, weeknight specials and Friday pizza night, for example); highlighting trendy flavors and ingredients seen on restaurant menus; posting ingredient labels touting health and wellness and product freshness, such as “Made in-store made today!”; and tying together multiple entertaining products to solve the problem of what to serve guests at a party.

    “All of these efforts will go a long way with consumers and show that retailers are focused on their changing needs,” she said. “With every category under deli prepared showing growth, the opportunities can be endless. The key will be to ensure you know what your consumer values and provide quick, healthy restaurant substitutes consumers are comfortable sharing with their family and friends.”

    Susan Durfee, director of Deli and Prepared Foods for Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets, operator of more than 160 full-service supermarkets spanning Western and Northeastern New York, Northern Pennsylvania and Western Vermont, noted that deli platters are a thriving part of the retailer’s deli and prepared food business.

    “Although it’s not the largest part of our business, it continues to grow and it’s probably one of the top two fastest-growing areas within our department,” Durfee said. “The Number 1 thing is convenience for our customers. They just don’t have the time, and they are willing to pay a little bit to have their cheeses and meats pre-sliced and laid out on a nice platter.”

    Among other product offerings, Tops offers a wide array of platters featuring sandwiches and wraps, desserts, cheese and fruit, hummus and olives, and vegetables, as well as party salads, pizza, and fried and rotisserie chicken. “We offer anything that makes a quick solution for our customers,” Durfee said, adding that Tops cross-merchandises at the store level to add another element of convenience for its customers.

    “We cross-merchandise to make it easier at the store. Customers can just walk in and get an idea that solves a problem for the party they are going to or for the friends they’re having over that night … it’s just one more thing off their list,” she explained. “We will actually take cooler vehicles and put in multiple types of entertaining trays. We may include the bakery by showing a cupcake platter or some cookies, or it might be fresh fruit, or crackers or bruschetta spread. It’s driving convenience and also giving our customers an assortment to choose from to fulfill all their needs for parties and entertaining.”

    Both preassembled and made at the store level, Tops’ deli and prepared food trays change based on consumer trends. The retailer’s party tray lineup was augmented by deli wraps and cheese cubes as well as more chicken and turkey options as they gained popularity, for example.

    “It’s about listening to what the customers are asking for in addition to looking at the trends in the items that we carry everyday within the deli and prepared food department. We incorporate those trends into our entertaining area,” explained Durfee.

    While traditional advertising such as in-store signage and Tops’ biannual “Great Entertaining” brochure play an important role in calling out important events for customers, social media outlets such as Facebook and Pinterest play an increasingly important role in Tops’ efforts to draw consumers into the deli and prepared food department, said Vincent Schiano, public and media relations specialist for Tops Markets.

    “Customer service on social media is huge. It’s a very integral part of what we do,” he said. “It keys us into our customers’ needs, and it provides an immediate response. It provides something timely. Moving forward we will keep that option open and continue to invest our time and resources in responding to customers’ needs online.”

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