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Empowering People, Inspiring Shoppers


Consumers are increasingly turning to grocery deli departments for convenience and fresh prepared foods. Delivering against these needs is a tremendous opportunity for retailers, but there are some key elements that will ensure success, including a dedicated, motivated and knowledgeable staff, and a pleasant, memorable shopping experience.

Not coincidentally, people and community are two of the six influencers defined by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) as impacting the direction of the deli in 2016. (The other four are food safety, consolidation, technology and competition.) The end game for both is creating value for shoppers, according to Mike Eardley, president and CEO of Madison, Wis.-based IDDBA.

It’s all About the Talent

“How do we get a motivated, excited, professional workforce that really values what we do as an industry?” asks Eardley. “We see too many low-paid people behind the counter who want out of there. Chefs are the motivated stars right now, but our people impact more food than a chef ever will.” Ideally, retailers will be able to communicate that what deli workers do is important. To that end, IDDBA provides many levels of skills and product knowledge training, as well as scholarships for personal and professional development.

IDDBA scholarships are both for students enrolled in food programs and the professional development of existing supermarket employees. The latter scholarships have gone to industry representatives at all levels of the grocery store, from courtesy clerks to store directors, and even professionals at the corporate level. Since 2000, nearly $494,000 in Scholarship for Growing the Future funds have supported 776 students representing 182 member companies.

The Willard T Reese Scholarship is a student program that builds awareness of opportunities in the supermarket industry for food professionals. Under the annual program, two students each receive a $5,000 scholarship.

These workers “are impacting the food of the United States,” says Eardley. “We want to attract the right people, train them, and pay them [a fair wage] and make them feel proud of their work.”

Eardley also praises the Food Safety Certification Reimbursement program (FSCRP), which has provided nearly $250,000 in certification exam reimbursement for 6,887 store-level dairy, deli and bakery associates and managers since 2003.

“The FSCRP … is the single best reason for retailers to join IDDBA,” he asserts. For a $200 retail membership, IDDBA will reimburse food safety certification costs up to $2,000 per chain. Courses can be any that are recognized by the state in which the retailer conducts business, including the ServSafe Food Handler Program.

When employees are well trained, they serve shoppers better, are more loyal to the employing retail banner and fulfill the mission of their employer better — that is the point of differentiation, says Eardley.

The focus of training should be on customer service, product knowledge and food safety. New programs that IDDBA is looking to launch in the coming year include allergen awareness for dairy, deli and bakery, and charcuterie.

It Starts in the Boardroom

IDDBA’s board of directors, which includes retailers and food and equipment manufacturers, as well as service providers, decides which areas need additional training resources. Members also provide input as to unfilled needs, but Eardley says that often, the resources already exist on IDDBA’s website (visit, Training & Education), and it’s only a matter of guiding members to the solutions they seek. Further, IDDBA is dedicated to providing resources in any format, and these resources are free for all.

Board members also lead the call for community, wherein IDDBA encourages its manufacturer, retailer and distributor members to come together in support of the association’s mission of promoting the growth and development of dairy, deli and bakery sales in the food industry.

It’s not just about promoting one product or piece of equipment, says Eardley, it’s also about creating an experience for the shopper. “It’s about buying and selling, but it’s also about teaching and telling,” he notes.

Education has always been part of specialty cheese maker BelGioioso Cheese Co.’s DNA, says Gaetano Auricchio, VP of sales for the Green Bay, Wis.-based company. Auricchio, who has been an IDDBA board member for two years, explains that the company spends a lot of time and effort educating retail and distributor companies, and also frequently supports solution-based promotions with suppliers of complementary products.

“We often do tailored programs with retailers’ preferred vendors,” he says. BelGioioso takes advantage of opportunities to extend its in-house expertise to retailers in an effort to enhance the shopper experience and increase sales. One example Auricchio provides is that of sending cheese makers to supermarkets for curd stretching. “It brings excitement and attention to the deli area,” he observes.

“There are so many cheeses available, so a lot of our work is bringing in the most appropriate products for a store and getting consumers to try the products,” continues Auricchio. “It’s about clearing out the noise and focusing on what will draw sales for the store. It’s important for partners to focus on trends in a given category, and in deli, snacking and entertaining are hot right now.”

That approach is illustrated by IDDBA’s Show & Sell Center, where rather than selling an individual product, community members are encouraged to sell solutions. “It’s all the elements,” says Eardley, “including ingredients, recipes, equipment, prep. … We want to show all the details, create an atmosphere, have the equipment and speakers to address all the topics. Instead of a display, it’s showing people how to interact with a consumer.”

Building a community takes risk and earned trust, says Eric Le Blanc, VP of marketing at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods and a member of IDDBA’s board of directors.

The opportunity for retailers is to build a true brand in areas where that has been missing, including deli and bakery, says Le Blanc. Retailers have lots of great data, but they lack the time or expertise to get value out of it. Suppliers can provide retailers with the infrastructure needed to create a successful, retailer-branded deli experience, through insights and communication, merchandising, product mix, signage, and the right information in the right place.

“Community is necessary because no single party can manage the shopper path and bring value to the shopper experience,” adds Le Blanc.

Retailers traditionally don’t want supplier partners in their stores doing research; they want product at the lowest possible cost. “In many ways, the difference between average and outstanding is a little imagination, not a lot of dollars,” notes Le Blanc. Privacy concerns regarding data are real, but retailers need to share information on a case-by-case basis. “Risk a little, and risk selectively with some suppliers,” he advises. “See who makes the partnership work.”

With the exception of a few standout banners, retailers are hard-pressed to persuade shoppers that they’re doing something different or of good quality, he adds. “There are two ways we can go as an industry. One way is to keep being a small handful of banners that have figured it out, and the rest limps along,” he points out. “But that’s a drag on the ones that are getting it right and doing a good job.

“The other way is that we have to behave in a way we’re not always good at,” he continues. “I’m going to give 100 percent, even if I get only 70 percent of the benefit. … We have to get away from the transactional purchase.”

For community to work, insists Le Blanc, it needs to be neighborly. “It’s a trusting environment that has to be earned,” he says. “It doesn’t sound like a hard-nosed business environment, but it will get us down the road. Risk a little, earn trust; it’s good for the business. And we benefit a little, too.”

“We want to attract the right people, train them, and pay them [a fair wage] and make them feel proud of their work.”
—Mike Eardley, IDDBA

“It’s important for partners to focus on trends in a given category, and in deli, snacking and entertaining are hot right now.”
—Gaetano Auricchio, BelGioioso Cheese Co.

“In many ways, the difference between average and outstanding is a little imagination, not a lot of dollars.”
—Eric Le Blanc, Tyson Foods

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