While many restaurant dining rooms across the country are shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, consumers are desperate to bring the foodservice experience into their homes.
In Philadelphia, where restaurants are closed for in-person dining, consumers are lining up (virtually) to make a reservation for dinner at Apricot Stone. Customers call Chef Ara Ishkhanian via video chat to go over the menu; candles, background music and the sound of water filling glasses is included. Later, dinner arrives to the customer via Grubhub.
- Especially during a pandemic, when public dining is largely banned, consumers are looking to re-create the restaurant experience at home.
- Food retailers can respond to this desire by creating charcuterie and cheese destinations.
- Specialty cheese and spreads are the hottest subcategories in deli.
Meanwhile, DoorDash has rolled out initiatives to bring the dine-in experience home with a new program called The Lunchroom. The company has partnered with The Cheesecake Factory, Outback Steakhouse and other chains to bring a bit of their physical locations online through video chat backgrounds and curated Spotify playlists.
Clearly, quarantined consumers want to re-create the atmosphere of going out to a restaurant as much as possible within the walls of their own homes. For manufacturers and suppliers of charcuterie, the opportunities to help consumers fulfill this need couldn’t be better. After all, charcuterie, and frequently cheese, aren’t just snacks or meals; they’re also an experience.
“So far, COVID-19 hasn’t had an impact on our consumers’ habits, other than changing where it’s eaten, with everyone quarantined inside their homes,” says Emanuela Bigi, marketing manager at Veroni, an Italian charcuterie company in Logan Township, N.J. “For the 2020 consumer, it’s similar to enjoying an indulgent restaurant experience with your family, or small gatherings in the comfort of your own home, at a fraction of the cost.”
Get on Board
Before the pandemic, charcuterie was enjoying a renaissance as the kind of authentic, experiential meal that today’s savvy consumers are yearning for.
The charcuterie category continues to grow in the United States, with many new producers and charcuterie offerings now available, according to Veroni’s Bigi. It appears to be a long-term lifestyle change; older generations have traditionally driven the category, but now younger consumers are attracted to the attributes of a high-protein, gluten-free, flavor-packed, versatile and ready-to-eat solution as a snack or meal.
Bolstering that viewpoint, Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) points to 3% total dollar sales growth in refrigerated packaged sliced lunchmeats during the 52 weeks ended March 22. Deli department sales totaled $5.7 billion during the same period, an increase of 3% also. The growth engine for much of that deli department growth going forward might well come from premium products such as charcuterie. Why? The consumer is looking for premium food products that deliver on the three key factors that charcuterie is known for:
- Experential: Charcuterie creates a memorable and positive experience that can be shared with loved ones or on social media.
- Convenience: Charcuterie is a portable or snackable food.
- Authenticity: Charcuterie, with its history and traditions, is seen as simple and “real” food with an authentic story.
Today, a fourth factor influencing charcuterie’s growth is that the pandemic consumer is looking for experiential food that also has a longer shelf life.
“COVID-19 has changed the way people socialize with friends and family, but it doesn’t change the way that charcuterie can be enjoyed,” Inada observes. “Having salami and aged cheeses in my fridge has personally been a blessing, because their shelf life is so long compared to cooked or fresh items. I’ve been just taking a few slices of salami a day, and making charcuterie with the random assortment of canned olives, nuts and dried fruit I have on my shelves, to put me in my happy place while I stay in place.”
When it comes to pandemic buying behavior, Aslin notes that cheese consumption has changed due to social distancing, and that shift is benefiting grocers.
“The pandemic has caused an increased demand in retail grocery,” he says. “We are working closely with our processors to maintain service levels to the stores.”
The sales data backs Aslin’s claim: Dollar sales of natural cheese were up 5.4% for the 52 weeks ending March 22, according to IRI, while sales of processed cheese were up 3.4%.
Cheese spreads were top sellers, with 6.8% sales growth during the same period. In the subcategories, cubed cheese was up an incredible 17.6%. It’s clear that new product introductions geared toward snacking and increased consumer interest in diverse flavors are important trends affecting the category.
“A lot of smaller and single-serve options have been introduced the last couple of years,” says Luke Buholzer, VP of sales at Monroe, Wis.-based Klondike Cheese Co.
Retailers looking to leverage the power of cheese, as the third-largest CPG category in the United States, to drive store traffic should consider new merchandising strategies that bring novelty along with familiarity to maximize shopper interest and engagement, according to Organic Valley’s Aslin. At the end of the day, if a retailer delivers a strong cheese portfolio, consumers will come.