The top suppliers of premium meats to grocery store delis got where they are by relying on time-honored production practices and brand loyalty built up over decades. But they also know that to succeed, you can’t stand still. Capitalizing on today’s consumer trends is as much a part of their success as hewing to tradition.

Philadelphia-based Dietz & Watson’s roster of premium deli meats includes 35 varieties of ham, 26 kinds of turkey breast, 10 varieties each of roast beef and chicken breast, and roast chicken, corned beef and pastrami products. Extensive as that is, the company’s lineup continues to grow, says Steve Riley, sales and marketing director. Many new items are of the clean-label variety. “We recently launched a complete line of more than 75 items that are ABF (no antibiotics ever used), with some organic options as well as high-protein snacks,” Riley says.

That commitment to clean-label has borne fruit on the bottom line, Riley says. While an old favorite, Gourmet Lite Turkey, remains Dietz & Watson’s top seller in retail delis, an updated version is gaining steam. “Recently our Organic Turkey has been a huge hit,” he says. “It’s the changing face of the American consumer — and the deli consumer in particular. They demand quality and healthy items.”

Lower-sodium and gluten-free deli meats are among the other products Dietz & Watson has introduced to keep pace with consumer demand, he says. Dietz & Watson’s Healthier Lifestyle line of premium deli meats are low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and salt, and exceed United States Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration standards for healthy foods. In addition, Dietz & Watson meats contain no artificial colors, flavors, fillers or extenders or MSG.

And while health and transparency are among the biggest trends, they aren’t the only ones Dietz & Watson has taken note of. Riley cites the company’s introduction of international flavors like Harissa Chicken and Hatch Chili into its product mix.

All deli meats made by Kretschmar Premium Del Meats and Cheeses, a brand of Smithfield, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, are considered premium because all of the company’s products are made with only the highest-quality cuts of meats and without gluten, fillers or MSG, says Michael Sargent, Kretschmar’ senior brand manager.

Kretschmar’s line of more than 125 items features bulk and pre-sliced deli meats, snacking and grab-and-go items and prepared meal solutions, as well as cheeses. And new products, Sargent says, are being added all the time. Skin-on turkey breast, fully cooked premium pork tenderloin and fully cooked tri-tip steak are among the most recent additions.  

 “The brand’s varieties have increased based upon our customers’ and consumers’ preferences,” he says. “Kretschmar will continue to add new varieties to meet the needs of business customers and those consumers who are constantly looking for convenient meal solutions and new and exciting products.”

Home delivery and meal kits are other trends Kretschmar is keeping a close eye on, Sargent says. “The brand’s innovation team continues to monitor the trends and is working to provide creative new Kretschmar products which will make consumers’ lives easier. We’re constantly striving to deliver high-quality offerings to our consumers that will help provide them with convenient meal solutions without sacrificing quality and flavor.”

Kretschmar’s “off the bone” deli line continues to be its best seller, Sargent says. The smoked ham, hand-trimmed turkey, chicken breast and black angus beef products in the line have bone-in flavor and quality, without the bone. “It’s been a staple of the brand for many years,” Sargent says.

Newer to Kretschmar is its Master’s Cut line of deli products, which is inspired by culinary trends and flavors that use the best cuts of meat and are American Heart Association-certified, Sargent says. “The brand has seen a younger, more adventurous consumer gravitate to this line.”


Old-school values

No matter how much Dietz & Watson innovates to keep up with the times, the company will never waver from the production processes that got it where it is today, Riley says. “We still prepare the products as they were when the company was founded back in 1939.”

And because of that history, and the relationships Dietz & Watson has built up with generations of retailers and their customers, Riley says the company is well-positioned to capitalize on the needs of today’s consumers — in particular, the need for transparency to trace the route their foods take from farm to fork.

“Consumers knowing where their products are coming from is in demand,” Riley says. “We’re seeing this because we resonate with consumers that  are looking for honest, real, family-owned companies that would feed their families the way you would feed yours. Trust is a huge deal.”

Having a strong premium deli meat program, Riley says, can help instore departments differentiate themselves from their center-store neighbors.

“Consumers are visiting the deli for prepared foods, not processed foods,” he says. “They can go to other departments in the grocery store to purchase processed meats. When it comes to Dietz & Watson, our products are prepared, not processed, and you really can taste the difference. Through having a higher-quality product they can trust, and that meets their specific needs, we’re bringing consumers back to the deli.”

Kretschmar also is bullish on the deli’s future. Sargent says the company continues to grow every year, with consumers showing an affinity and loyalty to the brand and the products that stand behind it. “Consumers continue to demand the best and the deli space is no different. Consumers want a choice and desire a premium brand at their delis.”

And Kretschmar has evolved with the times, Sargent says, tapping into trends like snacking, culinary-inspired flavors and fully-cooked prepared foods. “The brand delivers solutions for today’s consumer’s needs,” he says. In addition, he says, Kretschmar’s brand promotions — Kretschmar Country, Kretschmar Culinary and Kretschmar Legendary Wishes and others — help engage consumers with the brand even more.