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Health in the Deli


“A pound of salami, please” is a typical deli request, but today’s shoppers may be as likely to ask for a container of kale quinoa salad or another healthful prepared food.

The market for grocery prepared foods, including those consumed in-store and as takeout, is booming. Since 2008, the category has grown nearly 30 percent, reaching an estimated market size of nearly $29 billion, and more than 40 percent of the U.S. population purchases prepared foods from grocery stores, according to data from The NPD Group. In fact, the increasingly common phenomenon of grocers providing restau rant-type offerings has earned it the term “grocerant.”

Retailers can really shine with health-conscious shoppers in the prepared food area, especially with “differentiated dinner positioning centered around ‘better-for-you’ and approachable but elevated cuisine,” compared with casual dining, quick-service and delivery options, according to “Fresh Prepared Foods: Cracking the Code for U.S. Retailers,” a report by A.T. Kearney and Technomic. Retail dietitians can provide guidance on healthful, convenient offerings supported by deli-focused nutrition education programs.

Flavor, Nutrition Info on the Menu

Unlike yesterday’s deli, where health-conscious shoppers mostly were limited to rotisserie chicken, sliced turkey breast and light Swiss cheese, today’s departments offer an appealing array of better-for-you options with on-trend ingredients like those at ShopRite of Timonium, in Baltimore. “We offer unique varieties of cold and hot salads that incorporate grains like quinoa and barley, seeds like flax seed [and] chia seed, and different greens like kale and broccoleaf,” says the store’s retail dietitian, Elisabeth D’Alto.

Shoppers also seek certain nutrition attributes and information about the foods they buy. “I believe shoppers definitely want transparency in the supermarket, and that includes the deli,” notes D’Alto. “They are looking to make better choices for themselves and their families by looking for lower-sodium, lower-fat and preservative-/ additive-free options when it comes to the deli and prepared foods section.”

Although the Food and Drug Administration has postponed enforcement of new menu-labeling regulations that will eventually affect many deli and prepared food departments, it’s already common practice for retailers to provide online nutrition information or special designations on items that signal better-for-you choices.

Dietitian Programs

Retail dietitians like D’Alto actively promote healthful deli options and encourage product trial during supermarket tours, nutrition classes and hands-on demos. “During these educational sessions, we often suggest ways to add more fiber, reduce saturated fat, and introduce the idea of using alternative toppings such as avocado or hummus,” she says. “This education prompts our customers to sample new products that they may not have tried otherwise.”

Another win-win strategy for retailers and shoppers is to combine convenience with good nutrition to provide fast, healthful meal solutions. One example is ShopRite of Timonium’s dietitian-approved Helping Families Eat Better program. “Every week, we provide a simple, easy and delicious recipe, which can be found in a refrigerated meal case,” says D’Alto. “Customers stop here at the case, pick up the recipe and all the ingredients they need to create this meal. It’s been a very successful program for our store.”

Retail dietitians can provide guidance on healthful, convenient offerings supported by deli-focused nutrition education programs.

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