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    Truth and Consequences in the Deli

    A culture of professionalism is essential to better deli shopping experience

    By Kathy Hayden

    Here’s a glass that’s difficult to see as half full: About half (48 percent) of people shopping for prepared chicken in supermarket deli sections have experienced some type of problem.

    Fifty percent dissatisfaction is bad news in any setting, but in deli sections, where the influence of shopper experiences spreads throughout the store, these results are especially concerning.

    Consumers who reported problems in the deli experienced a 25 percent decline in satisfaction with their prepared food shopping experiences, noted a 17 percent decline in their likelihood to shop in prepared foods again, and were 22 percent less likely to recommend the prepared food section to others.

    For the final piece of Progressive Grocer’s three-part 2015–16 Deli Insights series, data from Tyson Foods’ “Consequences of Failure” research, conducted among more than 3,000 consumers who purchased or considered purchasing prepared chicken at grocery retail during the previous three months ending September 2015, reveal some major pain points in the industry. The new research also serves as a progress report when compared with the last set of survey results, from December 2014.

    As in 2014, the types of problems experienced in 2015 have to do with the basics: One in three consumers reported long wait times, one in four reported that the purchased product was too dry, and one in five reported that the product was unavailable.

    Every problem is an opportunity, and while these numbers of incidents were high and rising, they can also be seen as a wake-up call to an industry that needs to make a quicker transition from a selling space to a service space. As the deli competes with other prepared food providers, from the drive-through to home delivery, it’s time to move training beyond the basics.

    Start with Staff

    Better food experiences and better guest interactions begin and end with staff. A look at Tyson’s most recent research shows that of all foodservice shoppers who reported problems, 34 percent had a staff-related problem, which was up from 31 percent in the last set of surveys. Common staff problems included unfriendly or even rude staff, unhelpful staff, and unknowledgeable staff.

    Not only are staffing problems on the rise, Tyson research showed that they have an increasingly greater and more lasting impact than other store problems. Of those shoppers reporting staff problems, 37 percent had recurring problems. Staff problems led to a 21 percent decline in the likelihood to recommend a grocery store for prepared foods, and 39 percent reported not revisiting a grocery deli location for a short period of time after a staff problem.

    When combined with Tyson’s earlier observational studies finding no correlation between staff numbers and guest satisfaction, according to Eric Le Blanc, director of marketing at Spring-dale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc., these numbers underscore how customer satisfaction comes from the level of staff training, not just number of staff on hand. And as deli sections become more and more like in-store restaurants, many experts see this as a huge opportunity to move from retail-based training to hospitality-based training.

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