You are here
By Bruce Horovitz
Supermarket delis certainly seem to be hot stuff. That’s one clear finding from Progressive Grocer’s 2016 Retail Deli Review, in which more than two in three retail panelists predicted that their deli sales would increase over the next year.
It’s not just sales, but profits, too, that appear to be on the rise in supermarket deli sections. Nearly six in 10 retail deli executives surveyed earlier this year by PG said that they expected profits to grow over the next year.
But just how hot is hot? Well, perhaps no moment in delicatessen history is hotter than the famous scene in the film classic “When Harry Met Sally,” when Meg Ryan tries to prove to Billy Crystal that women can easily fake bedroom bliss. A delicatessen full of diners listens and watches as Ryan puts on a show that sounds far more appropriate for the boudoir than a deli.
The scene’s punchline, however, is the one-liner that an elderly female customer seated nearby utters when a waiter takes her order immediately after Ryan’s sultry demonstration: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Fast-forward to supermarket deli sections across the nation in 2016, and there’s a common thread: While sales are hot, everyone’s pretty much ordering the same thing — potato salad, macaroni salad and roasted chicken — and, in the process, keeping a lid on the potential growth that many supermarket deli managers envision.
The Basics and Beyond
“We try different things, but the basics always sell best,” says Barry Johnson, store director at Ridley’s Family Market, in Orem, Utah. “It seems like 90 percent of what you sell is potato salad and chicken.”
Dale Miller, store manager at Harding’s Friendly Market, in Schoolcraft, Mich., agrees that “old standbys are the key.” By that, he primarily means chicken, macaroni and cheese, and some basic fish offerings.
There’s one thing — more than anything else — that just might change this: Millennials, 42 percent of whom reported shopping in the prepared food department, versus 33 percent of Baby Boomers and 21 percent of Gen Xers, according to a recent study from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA).
While Millennials want their deli items quickly, they also want to spend some time reading the labels about what’s in the food, which they want fresh, natural and group. That could mean a future sales boost for deli products that claim to be clean, natural, organic or locally sourced, the IDDBA report notes.
At Harding’s Friendly Market, for example, Millennials are increasingly requesting GMO-free products, says Miller. What’s more, he adds, “They like to see the labels on everything.”
Similarly, while many of the older customers at Ridley’s Family Market pick the same selections of meat and cheese every time they visit the deli counter, many younger customers, those ages 25 to 35, are experimenting more with their selections, notes Johnson. But even then, they want to see the ingredients. “They want to know what they’re eating,” he says.
But what are the most effective ways of getting all customers — not just Millennials — to order new offerings from the deli section?