With labor-related problems continuing to be top of mind for instore deli departments, more and more are turning to outside suppliers for their hot deli side dishes.
And within the sides category, one buzz word seems to be particularly resonant: “premium.”
Albert Lea, Minnesota-based Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen Inc. makes 10 hot side dishes for instore grocery delis: Classic Mashed Potatoes, Country Style Gravy, Country Style Mashed Potatoes, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Gourmet Macaroni & Cheese, Hearty Mashed Potatoes, Premium Macaroni & Cheese, Premium Mashed Potatoes, Premium Poultry Gravy and Steakhouse Baked Beans.
All 10 are made fresh, refrigerated and shipped to delis in boil-in-a-bag packs, says Brenda Donahe-Stevens, Mrs. Gerry’s director of sales and marketing. The company also has added retail tray packs of its top three products: Premium Mashed Potatoes, Premium Macaroni & Cheese and Gourmet Macaroni & Cheese.
Mrs. Gerry’s is always on the lookout for ways to freshen the category to meet consumer demand, Donahe-Stevens says. Recent additions to the company’s product mix include fresh, refrigerated gravies to go with mashed potato products and a five-cheese macaroni & cheese. “Mrs. Gerry’s R&D team continues to work on additional refrigerated side dish options that will be introduced within the next year,” Donahe-Stevens says. “These products have been requested by customers and follow the trends that we are seeing.”
Demand is up significantly across the board for Mrs. Gerry’s hot side dishes, but two in particular stand out, Donahe-Stevens says: Premium Mashed Potatoes and Premium Macaroni & Cheese, shipped in the company’s 4/5 lb foodservice pack. “Retailers and foodservice operators are looking for high-quality, consistent, great-tasting side dishes they can count on that are easy to heat and serve and take out the labor,” she says.
To help separate itself from the competition, Mrs. Gerry’s takes great pains when it comes to quality control. For example, the company uses only Idaho russet potatoes for its mashed potato dishes — Donahe-Stevens says only they have the flavor and texture that meets Mrs. Gerry’s standards.
In addition, all potatoes are washed prior to arrival at Mrs. Gerry’s plant. That keeps dirt — and hence bacteria — from entering the facility. “Our philosophy is, if you put junk in you get junk out, so we only put the highest quality of ingredients in, which in turn makes a superior product,” Donahe-Stevens says.
Looking ahead, the labor issues faced by so many retailers today should guarantee strong demand for hot deli sides like those made by Mrs. Gerry’s, Donahe-Stevens says. “Fresh side dishes are a great option for them to use both in their hot case or in their cold case for customers to take home and heat themselves,” she says. “Our side dishes are a great compliment to any center of the plate option. In addition, our Macaroni & Cheese can be used on pizzas, as a burger topper or as a base with other cheeses or bacon added.”
SIDES’ CONTRIBUTION TO DELI SALES UP
In the 52 weeks ending Oct. 28, about $342.3 million worth of hot side dishes were sold in instore delis, according to research firm Nielsen. The category’s dollar contribution to the department as a whole was 1.4%, up from 1.3% the year before.
In addition, the average U.S. retailer sold $363 worth of sides per week, up 3 percent from the year before. (That figure takes into account all U.S. retail grocers, not just those that sell hot deli sides), according to Nielsen.
The top sides categories, as measured by dollar contribution, include:
- Potatoes (55.8 percent)
- Other vegetables (12.3 percent)
- Beans (9.8 percent)
- Other sides (8.9 percent)
- Prepared rice (4.7 percent)
- Corn (2.7 percent)