The deli department is clearly one of the drivers for growth in today’s perimeter-focused supermarket. According to IDDBA, the number of shopper trips to the deli is up 3.2% from a year ago and trips to the deli prepared section are up 5.2%.

Retailers are hoping the utilization of some of today’s top trends can help bolster recent success in the deli department.

Hit them with health

While there are more exciting trends to mull over, one of the most common trends in all departments of the store is also one of the most important for deli in 2019.

According to FMI research, healthy and nutritious options were among the top desires that shoppers have for retail foodservice. Nearly 75% of all shoppers and 87% of frequent shoppers of deli/prepared said healthy items are important. 

Kowalski’s Markets, an innovative retailer based in Minneapolis, has based many of its recent moves in the deli on the dietary needs of its consumers.

“Diet plays a huge role in what we’re doing,” says Terri Bennis, the company’s chief merchandising officer. “We’ve seen that it’s important to give our customers a lot of options. They can tailor whatever food they want to meet their dietary preferences.”

To serve or not to serve? 

One of Kowalski’s most popular deli items are its Signature Drummies — the drum portion of the chicken wing, available in a variety of flavors, including Buffalo, Kalbi, General Tso and more — which have recently become even more popular than ever.

How? By simply taking them from behind the counter and allowing consumers to choose which drumsticks they want. Since that move, Bennis says, Drummie sales are up 400% in some of its stores.

“That tells you it’s working,” she says. “I think customers like that they can get exactly what they want, and they don’t have to interact with anyone. Especially with Drummies, people are kind of particular and they want to pick out what they want.”

The same boost in sales was experienced when the store took its burrito bowl program out from behind the glass. Now it’s at the end of the salad bar where customers can peruse the ingredients — choice of meat, salsas, cheese, guac, beans and more — and decide what and how much of each item they want.

“We really elevated the sales with that program once we put it out for self-service,” Bennis says. “We’re seeing the trend kind of getting away from full-service deli as we know it and going toward more of a salad bar mentality. They just want to do it themselves. That’s one trend where we’re seeing great results.”

Power of choice

Deli and prepared programs don’t have to be self-serve to see big success. It’s really all about giving consumers as many choices as possible.

Kowalski’s has done that with its hibachi stations, which have been added to all 11 of its locations.

“Obviously the hibachi is not self-service because we have to cook everything from the raw state, but it’s a healthy and fairly convenient option for a meal,” Bennis says. “And it’s all prepared right there in front of them.”

It works like any typical hibachi restaurant. The consumer chooses their protein, vegetables, noodles and sauces and takes them to a trained employee, who prepares the meal while the consumer waits.

“We’re really seeing good results with that, as well as our pasta bar,” Bennis says. “And to me, our customers are responding to them because it’s so customizable. They can make the entrée any way they want it. It’s more of that Chipotle theory.”

Restaurant rivalry

There can sometimes be a silent rivalry between deli and prepared departments and nearby restaurants. After all, they are both competing for the same dollar consumers are spending to avoid making their own meal.

Furthermore, many culinary trends start at the restaurant, not the supermarket.

“It does all start at the restaurants,” Bennis says. “Most everyone on our team are foodies. We’re constantly checking out the latest restaurants that open in our market and then strategizing around those trends and figuring out how they apply to retail. I think we’ve done that as long as I’ve been here, which has been a long time.”

Kowalski’s has leveraged that familiarity with local restaurants into profitable relationships and new food ideas.

For example, one of Bennis’ favorite Twin Cities restaurants bakes its own bread. Its great taste and popularity with diners piqued the attention of Kowalski’s and the store was able to form a partnership with the restaurateur, who taught Kowalski’s employees how to make the bread.

It is now available on the store’s artisan bread bar and as a side on its popular soup bar.

“They play a huge role in what we do,” Bennis says. “Take different cuts of meat — restaurants are usually the first to roll out cuts that maybe retail hasn’t seen. We really try to partner with restaurants as much as we can. To either get a recipe or get a proprietary burger blend for a new burger. I think it’s important.”