There has been a huge increase in demand for easy-to-assemble charcuterie and cheese boards.
Many top-selling Mediterranean foods have been around for centuries, if not millennia.

But a considerably more modern trend —consumers’ desire to eat more healthfully —is spurring greater demand for olives, hummus, flatbreads, specialty meats and cheeses and other Mediterranean foods marketed in instore delis and prepared foods sections.

And suppliers are responding with a host of new products.

A number of trends, actually, have strengthened demand for Mediterranean foods in instore delis, says Anthony DiPietro, executive vice president of Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania-based DeLallo. Snacking, for instance. “Snacking is a major focus of retailers, and Mediterranean foods are a healthy option to fulfill this growth,” he says.

There’s also been a huge uptick in demand for easy-to-assemble charcuterie and cheese boards, which DeLallo’s accompaniment products (fruit spreads, for instance) are a perfect fit for, DiPietro says.

Olives and antipasti are DeLallo’s top instore deli sellers. The company also supplies delis with bruschetta, tapenades, salumi and other dry cured meats, focaccia toasts and specialty cheeses.

As consumers have become more and more interested in specialty products, demand for items like DeLallo’s smaller-harvest olive varieties also has climbed, DiPietro says. 

On the trade show circuit this year Delallo is highlighting a line of products that give retailers the advantage of merchandising items that look like they were packed inhouse —without the labor that actually doing it inhouse would entail, DiPietro says.

The company is packing its top-selling olive and antipasti items in clear small, medium and large containers that look like they were packed in the deli, DiPetro says. They display well, he says, and are a great supplemental purchase with cheese and charcuterie. With the exception of an ingredients panel on the bottom, the containers are label-free. All items are sealed to prevent leaks, and packs have a longer shelf life than product repacked instore.

Also new for Delallo is a new line of imported Granino cheese, which is marketed in blocks and grated in containers and bags. The Italian variety is sweeter than traditional Grana Padano cheeses, DiPietro says.

All of Grecian Delight's retail products are now shipping under the Opaa! brand.

New takes on protein —meat and plant-based

New for Grecian Delight, a Pure Mediterranean Foods company, is a line of meats that ship frozen to grocery prepared foods departments and are then heated for ready-to-eat hot bar sales.

The Opaa! branded ReadyCarved Ethnic Meats come in five varieties, says David Gacom, Grecian Delight’s executive vice president, retail and supply chain: Beef and Lamb Gyro Slices, Chicken Gyro Slices, Al Pastor Slices, Beef and Lam Shawarma Slices and Chicken Shawarma Slices. The meats’ resealable bags are similar to microwaveable vegetable bags. Product takes about three minutes to heat.

Consumer trends Grecian Delight is capitalizing on include demand for ethnic proteins (gyro, shawarma, al pastor), plant-based proteins (falafel), clean label and sauces and dips that put a twist on familiar main dishes.

All of Grecian Delight’s retail products are now shipping under the Opaa! brand, a move that Gacom says “provides equity” across deli, refrigerated and frozen products. Grecian Delight’s retail offer consists of five categories: Ethnic Meats, Sauces, Hummus, Flatbreads and Mediterranean Specialties.

In Flatbreads, Grecian Delight has consolidated its portfolio to focus on the category’s best performing products: Pita, Pockets, Naan and Flat Wraps. The trend in its Mediterranean Specialties category has been towards non-meat, vegetarian and plant-based products. In fact, coming soon for Grecian Delight, Gacom says, is a new line of falafel and other plant-based proteins.

In Sauces, Grecian Delight has focused more on its core Mediterranean-inspired dips: Tzatziki, Feisty Feta and Garden Feta.

The Hummus category, Gacom says, has started to flatten due to the large number of SKUs and to category managers’ decision to consolidate their sets. Despite that, Grecian Delight is well positioned, he says, in the five varieties that are driving category growth: Traditional/Classic, Roasted Red Pepper, Garlic, Pine Nut and Spicy.

Grecian Delights’ top sellers — those driving double-digit category growth —include Beef and Lamb Gyro Kits, Tzatziki Sauce, Gyro Sandwiches and Pita and Flat Wraps. “These items continue to experience growth in distribution across all regions while showing a strong trial and repeat that is driving item-level velocities,” Gacom says.

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Toufayan Bakeries is taking advantage of strong demand for Mediterranean foods with new products.
Ethnic breads in demand

This fall, Ridgefield, New Jersey-based Toufayan Bakeries will add to its Mediterranean product roster with a new line of tandoori flatbreads, available in both regular and whole wheat versions, says Karen Toufayan, the company’s vice president of marketing and sales. The new products, she says, reflect the growing popularity of ethnic breads.

Pitas, wraps, lavash, flatbreads, pita chips and naan are among the Mediterranean foods currently made by Toufayan Bakeries. The Mediterranean region runs in the Toufayan family — literally. “Given the Mediterranean roots of our founders — my father and grandfather —most of our bread products can be categorized as ‘Mediterranean,’” Toufayan says.

Over the past few years, the big trend in Toufayan Bakeries’ Mediterranean portfolio has been in the direction of “healthy,” Toufayan says. Healthier versions of the company’s traditional products that have been released in recent years include gluten-free wraps (available in four varieties); gluten-free pita chips; and non-GMO- and organic-certified pitas, wraps and naan.

The move toward healthier fare, Toufayan says, has turned out to be a healthy business move, too. “We’re finding that these ‘healthier’ versions of our traditional breads have become our fastest-growing segments, as consumers seem to have embraced both the gluten-free and organic food segments in the food sector,” she says.

Ficacci Olive Co. has seen strong demand for its Take-Eat branded doypacks.
Olive renaissance

David Dottorini, export representative for Italy-based Ficacci Olive Co., agrees that consumers’ increasing concerns for what they put in their bodies is a boon for Mediterranean foods.

“In recent years, customers are getting fond of healthy products,” he says. “Olives are recognized as a healthy food.” Ficacci focuses exclusively on fresh olives, which are high in antioxidants and have other health benefits, Dottorini says. And the company doesn’t use artificial colorings or unsafe preservatives, he adds.

Ficacci’s biggest grocery instore olive seller is its Sicilian Castelvetrano, Dottorini says. “It’s an amazingly crunchy olive, green due to its early harvest and with a typical buttery taste and a low salt content.”

Other popular varieties, he says, include the Gaeta, the “black pearl of Italian olives”; the green Cerignola, known both for its huge size and for being the first Italian olive retailed in the U.S. (since the 1930s); and Leccino, Kalamata, Halkidiki and many more —available either Ficacci-branded or in private label and in a wide range of pack sizes.

Olive bars remain a reliable performer for grocery instore delis, Dottorini says. “People enjoy the freedom of choosing the quantities and the assortment they love best,” he says. “They’ll never fade out.” Ficacci, he says, offers a wide range of product for olive bars, but it’s also highly selective —“only the biggest and most alluring olives in order to please the most demanding palates.”

DeLallo’s DiPietro says olive bars have become more of an accompaniment destination in recent years, thanks to the increase in popularity of specialty cheese and cured meats.

When it comes to trends, Ficacci is capitalizing on the resurgence of a pack popular in the 1960s —the doypack. The stand-up pack is experiencing huge growth, Dottorini says, and Ficacci is meeting demand with six different 4.4 oz doypacks packed under the Take-Eat label. And more SKUS are on the horizon. “Price, display and quality are the keywords of this brand-new range,” he says.

Flexible, convenient value

Toufayan says Mediterranean foods have a lot going for them — making them a natural fit for instore delis.

“Mediterranean foods in general benefit from have a ‘healthy, natural’ image of the Mediterranean region,” she says. “They also represent a change of pace from the ‘same old , same old’ image of traditional foods with a satisfying taste the entire family seems to enjoy. They are very flexible and convenient to  use with a variety available  for any and all tastes.”

To top it all off, Toufayan says, Mediterranean foods are a good value.

Grecian Delight’s Gacom also sees a variety of factors propelling the Mediterranean category’s growth. “Mediterranean cuisine continues to outpace other ethnic cuisines because of the strong health credentials, taste profiles and availability across departments,” he says.

The rise in home meal replacement and ready-to-eat products also is playing a big role, Gacom says. “As a top producer for both retail and foodservice, we see the lines blurring between fast-casual restaurant and grocery deli channels, as shoppers want interesting, great-tasting offerings that are convenient and ready-to-eat.”