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Deli Dally


Influencing purchase decisions within the shopping trip is a profitable retailer goal.

Supermarket delis are leaving money on the table. The question is how to get it back.

"With so many shoppers not planning to stop at the deli, but so many open to impulse buys, deli departments have a two-part problem: how to make them stop and how to make them buy," says Alan Heibert, senior coordinator for education at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA).

Heibert adds that Madison, Wis.-based IDDBA's 2012 report, Consumer Shopping Dynamics: The Decision Tree, found that 45.8 percent of shoppers almost always shop with a list, and another 28.8 percent shop with a list most of the time. But 31.8 percent almost always purchase items not on their list, and another 30.9 percent do so most of the time.

When it comes to the deli department, Heibert says, The Decision Tree survey found that about half of shoppers made the decision to visit the department before arriving at the store, and half made the decision to visit after arriving.

This means, according to Heibert, that "deli departments would do well to be as appealing as possible. Respondents to the IDDBA survey reported that they were drawn to the deli by their senses. Perhaps smell travels the farthest through the store, but no smell — or worse, an unpleasant smell — will keep away shoppers who weren't planning to visit the department. The sounds of the deli should include pleasant greetings from the staff."

Many shoppers prefer service meats and cheeses to prepackaged items, because they think they're fresher, and IDDBA believes deli departments that lack service will probably lose customers. Shoppers also report that a clean-looking deli will draw them in, and they like being able to see part of the prep area in back so they can check out the cleanliness there, too.

Finally, Heibert notes: "Taste could be the most important sense to draw customers. After all, they're in the store to get something to eat. IDDBA believes that samples are the best way to describe products and solicit impulse sales."

When it comes to reasons shoppers bypass the deli department, The Decision Tree respondents said prices were too high, similar items from the regular aisles are cheaper, and it's more convenient to shop the regular aisles.

"The attribute of the deli department that IDDBA survey respondents reported seeing first was sales/price specials, followed by the array of meats displayed, and signs above or around the glass," Heibert says. "Signage serves as a fundamental method by which retailers can communicate directly with customers. Many retailers give their customers information on product attributes, origin, sale price, serving ideas, and more, by signs. However, efforts are wasted if people aren't enticed enough by their first glimpse of the display to stop long enough to notice the information is available, much less to read it. A huge sign overhead, however, can alert browsers to all that they might miss if they don't stop to inspect their options more carefully."

The NPD Group/DeliTrack reports that convenience plays a key role for prepared foods sold at retailers. Given that shoppers average nearly three grocery-shopping trips per week, they're able to get prepared foods during the week without having to make extra trips. Elevated gas prices offer consumers more motivation to consolidate their food trips.

Further supporting the idea that retail prepared food purchases are motivated by convenience, according to NPD Group/DeliTrack, is their often unplanned nature: Nearly half the time (45 percent), the decision to buy prepared foods is made while the shopper is in the store.

Quality and Comfort

Supermarket delis that want to attract browsers should also be aware of the top reasons NPD Group/ DeliTrack found that consumers buy prepared foods at retail: They buy them regularly, the deli provides an easy home meal, they're buying for dinner that night, they're consuming their purchase right away, and they're satisfying a craving.

Targeting messages in the deli to these reasons can turn browsers into buyers. Another finding from Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD that can influence in-store deli-buying decisions is the strong increase in grocery stores' self-service offerings.

Eric Le Blanc, VP of deli and convenience stores at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc., sees drivers of satisfaction in buyers of deli prepared foods as factors that can dramatically affect buying decisions made in-store. LeBlanc ranks them in the following order:

  1. Quality of the prepared foods is very good.
  2. Would feel good about spending my money on this product.
  3. Items have an overall very good appearance.
  4. Appears items will taste very good.
  5. Would be proud to serve me/my family.

"The key takeaway from these attributes," LeBlanc says, "is that they really boil down to two areas of interest or concern on the part of deli shoppers: perceived quality and an emotional benefit to the purchase."

Why should retailers care about these drivers of satisfaction? "Because satisfaction drives both repeat visitation and likelihood to recommend by word of mouth," LeBlanc explains. "Shoppers who do not rate their retailer with at least an eight on a 10-point scale are much less likely to visit again or recommend. The difference between being pretty good' and 'very good' is not a linear progression."

A Tyson study of retailers shows the variation in customer satisfaction ratings, and what's striking, Le Blanc says, is that they range from a high of 89 percent satisfaction ranking to a low of 53 percent. "The point being," he emphasizes, "retailers vary considerably in how well they meet customers' satisfaction, and likely visitation and recommendation thrive or suffer in relation to the relative value of satisfaction."

Retailers that pick up a greater percentage of their sales on impulse purchase, LeBlanc concludes, are more effective at converting a non-buyer into a buyer through in-store influences that are going to be related to perceived quality and emotional triggers, which relate to satisfaction. "Stores with a clean environment, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and appetizing products will convert more shoppers than those who do not perform as well on these metrics," he says.

At the Counter

Retailers have various perceptions of what portion of deli-buying decisions are made in-store, and strategies to increase this percentage.

"On the meat and cheese side of the counter," says David Calandro, director of foodservice at Dierbergs Markets in Centerfield, Mo., "I think customers come into the store with pretty specific thoughts about what they are going to pick up. Once at the counter, though, price can motivate changes within the category."

To influence in-store decisions, Calandro says Dierbergs uses such techniques as sampling events and meal options for $5.99 to $7.99, highlighted by case tags for quick reference.

Dierbergs also offers three signature meats on sale every week, highlighted by an overhead sign above the service cases, with inserts changing out weekly, featuring those key items and listing their benefits, Calandro explains. In the service case, case-tag backers distinguish sale meats and cheeses.

At Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets, Director of Deli and Prepared Foods Geoff Wexler says that an increasing number of deli shoppers are buying secondary items, which he attributes to dynamic samplings and informative signing. "We've improved our callout labels, and we also have showcase selections for our weekly promotional items," he explains.

Wexler sees various purchase triggers: With specialty cheeses, it's informative signage and sampling; with salads, it's signage and knowledgeable associates; and with commodity sale items, it's signage and display.

"I think it would be fair to say that 75 percent to 80 percent of deli-buying decisions are made on impulse," says Casie Broker, director of marketing at Price Chopper Enterprises in Prairie Village, Kan. Broker says deli team members are trained to do demos and samplings, and "we merchandise deli products for impulse sales by ads, in-store signage, intercom announcements, suggestive selling and offering a good variety of menu offerings."

Broker feels that hot foods are "much more impulsive and appetite-driven, while meats, cheese and salads require more thought processes and take into account 'better-for-you' and 'entertaining' decisions."

"A relatively small portion of the deli-buying decisions are currently being made at store level," says Jeff Harrell, director of deli-bakery operations at Charlotte, S. C.-based Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. "We are currently looking for ways to expand options to the stores."

To attract impulse buyers, Harrell says, eye-catching and well-signed displays in heavily trafficked areas work best. "Demos have always been a successful way to show off the product, and create awareness and excitement," he notes.

Bekah Swan, VP of deli and bakery at Supervalu in Eden Prairie, Minn., says, "Our sense is that a good deal of deli-buying decisions are made in-store." Sampling, suggestive selling and impactful merchandising displays are ways to influence the decision, she says.

Once shoppers hit the deli, either with a list or simply browsing, the trick is to hold 'em.

"75 percent to 80 percent of deli-buying decisions are made on impulse."

—Casie Broker, Price Chopper

"A relatively small portion of the deli-buying decisions are currently being made at store level."

—Jeff Harrell, Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co.

"I think customers come into the store with pretty specific thoughts about what they are going to pick up."

—David Calandro, Dierbergs Markets

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