KANSAS CITY - Given the times and the need for trusted comfort foods, Beaverton, Ore.-based Reser’s Fine Foods is most bullish on its potato salads – both original and deviled egg varieties — and other traditional “comfort” options.  

“There is something quite comforting in the familiar tastes and flavors of our deli salads, and we’ve heard from consumers that taste, comfort, and convenience during these challenging times are qualities they truly appreciate and value,” said Nathan Roe, senior manager of deli strategy and customer marketing for Reser’s.

People are craving comfort foods as well as a break from the additional work, childcare, and cooking demands they may be facing, Roe said. Ready-to-serve deli salads offer familiarity and time-savings.

Because of COVID and the shift in consumer shopping behavior, many delis have shifted all or a portion of their bulk, freshly prepared salads to prepacked items to reduce labor and adjust to the shift in shopping behaviors.

Consumers are also making fewer trips to the grocery store, increasing their basket size, and choosing pick-up or delivery more frequently.

Once the pandemic has finally passed, things should return to some version of “normal” in the deli salad category, Roe said.

“While we don’t know how things will continue to evolve, we expect that long term, deli cases will return to having a wide variety of ready-to-serve choices that consumers are looking for, with an emphasis on value,” he said. “Showcasing the deli salad category online to help shoppers consider the deli as part of everyday meal planning will also be an opportunity.”

That said, Reser’s knows that 2021 won’t look like 2020, and retailers have already modified what and how they sell, both of which have shaken up the deli salad category.

“Reser’s is working closely with retail partners on a variety of in-store and online programs in response to these changes,” he said. “From meal-deals to targeted coupon promotions to virtual sampling, many tactics that have been around for years are now core to meeting consumers where they are most comfortable browsing and buying.”

In the up-and-coming category, a surprising deli salad hit this year for Reser’s has been its new Jalapeno Cheddar Macaroni salad, Roe said. The salad includes a creamy dressing with big noodles and “a little kick.” Plus, the addition of jalapeno peppers as an ingredient in a deli case has had Reser’s customers asking for even more innovation in creamy-heat salad concepts, he added.

Another trend that’s prevalent throughout the food industry, including deli salads, is consumers increasingly looking at ingredient statements and wanting to feel good about what they’re eating and buying, Roe said.

“For the most part, they don’t want to sacrifice taste or convenience, but we think there may be some flexibility on price,” he said. “There is a perception that fresh deli sides are already “clean” – so in many cases, we see the industry simply catching up with consumer expectations.”

Local, clean, global, convenient

Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development at Schwenksville, Pa.-based Don’s Prepared Foods, said there are many trends driving sales of deli salads in the grocery perimeter.

“Local, clean, globally inspired, convenient, grab n’ go,” Cappelli said, ticking off just a few.

To meet changing consumer demand during the COVID era, Don’s launched pre-packed cup products in May.

Other behaviors are coming to the fore now, he said.

“Consumers are pressed for time and want solutions. They want it scooped-out or pre-packed, and they prefer that the store to do it — fresh.” And they want salads that are delicious, healthy and global.”

That shift will likely remain even after the pandemic has passed, Cappelli said.

“Consumers want innovative meal solutions and sides and safe, pre-packed cups,” he said.

Don’s new pre-packed salads include:

  • Deluxe Seafood Salad
  • Buffalo Chicken Salad
  • Tuna salad
  • ·White meat chicken salad
  • Deep Sea delight
  • Ham salad
  • Pasta parmesan salad
  • Sandwich spread chicken salad
  • Seafood pasta salad

Vegetarian items remain a strong performer on Don’s deli salad roster, Cappelli said. Top performers include Wheatberry, Cranberry Grain and Mango Lime Quinoa.

Demand for vegetarian continues to grow, Cappelli said, thanks to the  cross-generational appeal.

“Millennials are the largest and fastest-growing, but boomers are starting to grow into” the category, he said.

Gen Z is also big, and Gen Xers who still have kids at home are looking for more and more healthy options, Cappelli said.

Don’s salads are good hot or cold and they go well with fish, chicken, beef or pork.

This story was featured in the November issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here for the full issue.