The Real Deal

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The Real Deal

By Meg Major, EnsembleIQ - 05/02/2011

In a PG exclusive, research and insights from The NDP Group shed additional new light on the key consumer drivers of lunch and dinner consumption of deli-related foods.

Editor's Note: The second, installment of a three-part Deli Shopper Insight series continues with a closer look at how consumers shop the deli and the related motivators behind their purchase decisions.

In the realm of store departments, where retailers can prominently distinguish themselves from competitors and make a strong impression with shoppers that goes well beyond price, the deli is the deal.

Indeed, more than one-third of all adults (37 percent) make a purchase from the deli department in the average week, according to The NPD Group's DeliTrack service. And though there are no specific lines that define the department for shoppers, the “heart” of the deli is the service counter, where shoppers can either be enamored or exasperated. However, just over half (56 percent) of deli-area purchases are obtained from the deli service counter, according to DeliTrack, with the rest hailing from either pre-packed self-serve items or a food/soup/salad bar.

To grow the deli business, it's critical to go beyond sales data and look deeper to know who deli shoppers are, what motivates their purchases, and how shopping habits are affected as a result, affirms Joseph Derochowski, executive director for Chicago-based NPD.

While most primary grocery shoppers tend to be female (54 percent), the deli shopper is nearly as likely to be male (46 percent), notes Derochowski, who adds that the average deli shopper is more likely to be middle-aged or older (45-64 years old), with two out of three having no children under 18 years old in the household.

“When a consumer enters the deli department, she is there for a meal solution,” observes Derochowski. “She doesn't have much time, so the quicker and easier she can find a tasty meal, the happier she'll be and the more likely she'll come back for future meals.”

Mindful that the deli serves many needs, this article will explore the department from the perspective of two primary functions:

■ A source for sandwich ingredients

■ A source for ready-to-eat/heat-and-eat meal solutions

Ideally, Derochowski says, there should be two distinct strategies for growing each function, since each has its own unique competitive challenges and different consumer needs to be met.

‘Beat the Clock’

More than 80 percent of lunchmeat sandwiches are prepared in the home, and most are consumed for lunch, according to NPD's “National Eating Trends” study. Sandwiches of all varieties are generally the top choice for lunches, and even more so for occasions when convenience is of the utmost importance to the consumer. NPD's “Lunchtime MealScape” study refers to these convenience-driven occasions as “Beat the Clock,” during which time consumers are seeking foods that are easy to prepare, that they can make or get quickly, and that are easy to clean up and eat quickly.

The path to growing the deli lunchmeat and cheese business could include:

■ Taking share from ready-to-eat/restaurant-prepared sandwiches

■ Taking share from pre-packaged lunchmeats and cheeses

■ Influencing consumers to eat more lunchmeat sandwiches overall

The fastest way to change consumer behavior is to make it easier or cheaper, says Derochowski, noting that while these are relative measures, deli strategies should be assessed as to whether they meet one or the other — or both. With this in mind, the idea of deli lunchmeats taking share from restaurant sandwiches may be difficult, because while restaurant-made sandwiches tend to be more expensive than homemade, they present a more convenient option. What's more, the No. 1 reason consumers purchase lunchtime meals away from home is because they “regularly eat this meal away from home,” according to NPD's National Eating Trends service.

Compared with using a restaurant, deli lunchmeats and cheeses are working against greater convenience and also habit. Deli-prepared sandwiches are a better alternative to compete with restaurants at lunchtime.

“ Lunch is the meal most often eaten away from home, and the meal that offers the greatest opportunity to emphasize the cost advantages of sourcing from the supermarket,” says Derochowski. “From theshopper's perspective, supermarkets can fill at-home, away-from-home and even an in-store lunch.”

What's for Lunch?

As with most things in life, shoppers have choices when it comes to lunchmeat sandwiches: they can make their own, or they can choose to purchase a ready-to-eat item from a retailer or a restaurant. While the majority of lunchmeat sandwiches are prepared and consumed in the home, shoppers can choose between deli and pre-packaged lunchmeats and cheeses. For lunchmeat, DeliTrack reports that just over one-third of purchases are from the deli counter, with the remainder purchased pre-sliced/pre-packaged. So the question is: Can the pre-packaged lunchmeat shopper be converted to the deli?

Typical complaints against the deli department include higher prices and the inconvenience of waiting in line and/or for an order to be filled. While managing wait times needs to be a priority, Derochowski says retailers have a golden opportunity to offer more unique selections in the deli — either through flavors or healthy attributes. If shoppers are attracted to the resealable tubs used by many pre-packaged lunchmeat brands, he posits, could delis offer the same? Understanding the consumer's needs and desires should be the foundation of deli strategies.

There are also opportunities for deli cheeses when it comes to sandwiches. DeliTrack reports that nearly two-thirds of deli counter lunchmeat shoppers (60 percent) also buy cheese during the same trip. Half of those shoppers get their cheese from the deli counter while ordering their deli lunchmeat, with the other half purchasing cheese from the dairy case. Can retailers bring some of those dairy-case cheese shoppers back to the deli? While only half of the dairy-case cheese purchases are of sliced cheese, cross-promoting deli cheese with deli lunchmeat purchases could increase overall deli sales and provide convenience to shoppers from the perspective of one-stop shopping.

Developing a Lunch Sandwich Destination

A deli strategy to encourage consumers to eat more lunchmeat sandwiches overall, as well as seeking to take share from pre-packaged deli meats and cheeses, could be structured around both in-store and direct-to-consumer marketing, which could:

■ Remind shoppers to maintain their inventory of sandwich ingredients

■ Offer sandwich “recipe” ideas to spark variety

■ Cross-sell deli cheese and bakery rolls with deli lunchmeat purchases

■ Stock popular sandwich sides such as chips in the deli, or, better yet, actively cross-sell prepared deli salads (“Would you like some coleslaw with your oven-roasted turkey?”)

“ Consumers' need for prepared or partially prepared meals is a huge opportunity for retailers.” Joseph Derochowski, The NPD Group

Deli meat and cheese purchases tend to be planned and habitual. Shoppers report via DeliTrack that the top reason they purchase these items is because “I buy it regularly,” i.e., they're replenishing their inventory. Also, more than two-thirds of these purchases are planned: Shoppers knew before they entered the store that they were going to buy deli cheese or deli lunchmeat. Deli prepared foods are different in this regard, as nearly half of prepared food purchases are impulse items: The shopper made the decision to buy the items while in the store.

Additionally, specific deli prepared foods aren't purchased nearly as often as a matter of habit. While habit is still a top reason, a close second is buying deli prepared foods “for dinner that night,” and following that is “to eat right away.” The rate of impulse purchasing is higher for deli-area prepared foods. For nearly half of all purchases, the decision to buy is made while in the store.

Mainly Prepared

Deli prepared foods offer convenience as an alternative to cooking, as well as the opportunity for consumers to serve foods they may not normally prepare. According to NPD's “Before the Store” report, which explored challenges faced by primary grocery shoppers, when it comes to planning and shopping for meals and snacks, staying within a household budget was the top concern, followed closely by getting new ideas for main meals. One in 10 dinnertime meals are obtained from restaurants, and the No. 1 reason for buying a dinner meal away from home is because the homemaker didn't want to cook.

Deli prepared foods can be positioned to compete directly with restaurant offerings in this regard. Consumers prefer to eat dinner in their homes, they are seeking new ideas for meals, and there are times when they simply don't feel like cooking. Deli prepared foods can address all of these needs and more, including affording shoppers the convenience of picking up other household necessities while in the store — a convenience that restaurants clearly don't offer.

“Consumers are eating at home more often, but they don't want to spend a lot of time cooking the meals,” says Derochowski. “This need for prepared or partially prepared meals is a huge opportunity for food retailers. It's not only an opportunity for sales, but also a means of increasing customer loyalty by providing a larger share of their food needs.”

Recalling NPD's “Dinnertime MealScape” study that identified a need state for such convenience-driven situations as “Last Minute No-Brainers” — which represent just over one in five dinnertime meals — the top needs or benefits sought are choosing foods that:

■ Take little/no planning or thought

■ Fill up/satisfy hunger

■ Are easy to prepare or get

■ Can be made or gotten quickly

■ Can be prepared at the last minute

There is strong alignment between the benefits consumers are seeking when convenience is a priority at dinnertime and those offered by deli prepared foods. Retailers can connect with consumers by positioning deli prepared foods directly against these needs.

“Merchandising the deli area for quick selection of everything that is needed for a meal is a major added value for time-strapped meal planners, like moms,” says Derochowski. “If she knows she can run into the deli area for the entire meal, she is likely to buy more and will return.”

Most deli departments offer different options in terms of readiness for consumption. DeliTrack reveals that most prepared food purchases are foods that are bought cold and are ready to eat (55 percent of purchases). Hot ready-to-eat items are the next most common option, representing one-third of all deli prepared food purchases. Items that are cold and need to be heated before eating have a 12 percent share of purchases.

Convenience is a strong theme running through the top reasons for buying deli prepared food items:

■ Buy it regularly

■ For dinnerthat night

■ To eat right away

■ For easy meal at home

■ Had a craving for it


Top prepared foods obtained from the deli area or from a food/soup/salad bar are:

■ Whole seasoned rotisserie chicken

■ Fried chicken pieces

■ Hummus

■ Caesar salad

■ Mixed greens/garden salad

■ American potato salad

■ Turkey sandwich/turkey wrap

■ Sub/Italian meat sandwich

■ Macaroni salad

■ Creamy coleslaw


The Deli Shopping Experience

NPD's DeliTrack reports that most deli shoppers indicate that they have a positive shopping experience in the deli. Nearly 70 percent of deli shoppers rated their last experience as “excellent” or “very good.” While those who visited a supercenter/discount store weren't as charmed by their deli experience, most of these shoppers also rated those delis visited as “good” or “better.”

A Call to Interaction

Interaction with the deli counter attendant presents several opportunities and risks for retailers. The opportunities include the potential for a positive interaction with shoppers, as well as having a chance to create a favorable impression with shoppers that differentiates the grocer from its competition through friendly, knowledgeable staff, who get ample extra points for quick and accurate order-filling. As noted above, there are also opportunities to cross-promote deli items — a scenario that could also backfire and turn shoppers away if the attendant is too pushy or aggressive.

DeliTrack asked shoppers who frequent the deli department monthly or more often to rate their most recent deli shopping experience. The following attributes were most highly rated:

■ Attendants: Friendliness, Accuracy

■ Quality of Deli Meats

■ Cleanliness

■ Deli Location Within the Store

■ Freshness of Deli Prepared Foods

Among these same shoppers, the attributes that present potential opportunities, as they were the lowest-rated, were:

■ Affordable Prices/Having Items on Sale

■ Providing Healthy Options

■ Selection of Deli Prepared Foods

■ Having New Items to Choose From

Editor's Note: Stay tuned for Part III of PG 's NPD's exclusive Deli Shopper Insights series in our July 2011 issue, which will take a look at the continuum of the consumer experience, including retailers' unique, tactical ways to connect with consumers, and the related holistic elements to employ to engage shoppers and further build their brand, image and loyalty.

For more information on this and other deli shopper insights, visit or


You can't afford to miss out on the fastest-growing deli prepared chicken segment: WINGS.

■ Wings are the No. 1 impulse buy for deli chicken purchasers: More than 40% of consumers say wings were an unplanned purchase from their grocery's prepared foods section.

■ Wings are a proven repeat purchase: Shoppers who buy wings from the deli say their intent to buy them again is 81%.

■ Wings purchases are driven by perceptions of quality, not price: Deliver a superior eating experience, and consumers will keep coming back for more.

The Tyson Difference

Tyson Crispy Glazed Wings deliver exceptional flavor and texture that's proven to push retailer sales volume. Retailers that have replaced a competitive product with Tyson Crispy Glazed Wings have seen 2 to 4 times more sales.

Plus, Crispy Glazed Wings offer retailers:

■ Better hold quality - moist, crisp wings through extended hold times in the hot case

■ Better sauce adhesion - so sauce stays on wings and not in the pan

■ 5 on-trend sauced profiles - Buffalo, BBQ, Teriyaki, Caliente, and Hot Pepper

■ 3 dry-rub flavors - Salt and Vinegar, Ranch, and Buffalo Ranch


Reduce shrink and add value to your excess rotisserie chicken with new easy-to-assemble bakes for the deli department. Tyson Rotisserie Bakes take advantage of hot consumer demand trends:

■ Chicken dishes are the most popular prepared food item at supermarkets—almost half of all recently purchased grocery prepared meals were chicken meals.

■ Rotisserie chicken unit sales are up 4%, year over year.

■ Pasta, Mexican and pot pie dishes were the only deli entrees that showed dollar sales growth in 2009.

The Tyson Difference

Tyson Rotisserie Bakes provide your customers with a new option at the deli while helping you control shrink. Here's what makes Rotisserie Bakes a smart choice for retailers:

■Better bottom line - Manage shrink by assembling second meals with excess cooked chicken.

■Top-line sales growth - Boost revenue with a product line that delivers incremental purchases.

■Deli differentiation - Freshly prepared in-store meals that combine convenience and quality set your store apart.

■Easy execution - Conveniently portioned sauces and components arrive frozen, ready to thaw and assemble fresh in the store.

■3 consumer-pleasing flavors: Bacon Alfredo, Classic Pot Pie, Creamy Enchilada


With shoppers making 38% of purchase decisions for deli prepared foods in-store, effective point of purchase communications are essential to reaching your most valuable customers. Raising product and category awareness at the point of purchase can boost volume and pave the way for sustained sales growth at the deli counter.

Tyson promotions get results

From meal deals to sports and movie tie-ins, Tyson Deli's research-driven promotion programs offer high appeal to target consumers and are proven to increase retailers' top-line sales:

■ 10 of 12 major retailers who used Tyson Deli's chicken wings promotional programs saw significant volume growth in their wing category—some as high as 72%.

■ A spring 2010 promotion pairing Tyson Rotisserie Chicken and wine generated promotional lifts for retailers projected at 25% to 30% for the 4,500 participating outlets.

■ Retailers got a 55.1% sales lift simply by supporting their weekly ad with a boneless wings POS—and no price reduction.