As the weather gets cooler, many consumers are on the lookout for deli salads to complete their tailgating events and family gatherings. Today’s consumers are seeking convenience and variety as much as they’re looking for quality and value, pointed out Nathan Roe, senior manager of deli strategy and consumer marketing for Beaverton, Ore.-based Reser’s Fine Foods.

 “Retailers nationwide are mixing up the status quo, from delis that are expanding to demonstrate a retailer’s prepared foods expertise, to departments that shifted to more packaged options, freeing up behind-the-glass labor costs,” Roe said. “We expect to see many of the pandemic eating trends continue. Meal preparation will continue to be about ease and convenience balanced with taste and quality. The stresses of the last year highlighted that families do not want the added pressure of high-touch meals.”

In March 2020, nearly every retailer shut down its salad bars and switched to pre-packaged options. A year and a half later, Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development for Schwenksville, Pa.-based Don’s Prepared Foods, noted that many stores are continuing to rely on grab-and-go formats, while others have reopened salad bars. 

“We’ve found it’s a mixed bag. We’re seeing in the retail environment about 50/50,” said Cappelli. “So at Don’s we’re trying to offer solutions that retailers can scoop out and put in their own clamshell or whatever vessel that relieves the consumer fatigue.”

Not only can grab-and-go relieve some of the labor shortages retailers are facing, but it’s a format that consumers have come to expect because of the convenience. 

After a lot of time spent preparing meals at home, many shoppers are dealing with cooking fatigue and looking for a way to put meals on the table quickly, without much of a headache. Busy customers can pick up a grab-and-go salad or two to save as a side for the week’s family dinners. Not only does that take out the step of preparation, but it also gives consumers more meal variety.


Globally-inspired, clean eating

While fall and winter holiday gatherings will likely still remain small with families and close friends coming together, gatherings are expected to be more extravagant after holidays in 2020 were almost brought to a standstill by the pandemic. Cappelli expects deli salads to have a lot of potential during the busy season.

“With the holidays coming up, retailers need to provide solutions,” Cappelli said “If you’re going to host Thanksgiving at your house, everything has got to be perfect. So, you really want high-quality, all-natural, clean solutions. So, it’s important for retailers to provide solutions to consumers and give themselves a point of difference in the marketplace.”

Retailers can stand apart from their competitors by offering high-quality solutions that no one else has. While traditional deli salads such as tuna, chicken, egg and seafood are still top-sellers —and probably always will be— the category growth is occurring in globally-inspired flavors and plant-based, natural options.

Don’s newest line of Better Bowls includes five globally-inspired deli salads that are ready-to-eat, packed with protein and free from artificial ingredients:

  • Chicken Pesto Pasta Bowl – grilled white meat chicken breast tossed with artichokes, white beans and rotini paster, and mixed with organic basil pesto.
  • Honey Sriracha Chicken Bowl - grilled white meat chicken breast mixed with red bell peppers and wild rice and tossed with a honey sriracha sauce.
  • Unwrapped Grilled Chicken Burrito Bowl — grilled white meat chicken breast, roasted corn, black beans and long grain brown rice, mixed with southwestern style spices and lime juice.
  • Korean BBQ  Style Chick’n Bowl – plant-based chicken with vegetables and long grain brown rice, tossed in a Korean BBQ-style sauce with scallions and sesame seeds.
  • Mexican Style Chorizo and Rice Bowl – plant-based chorizo, black beans, sweet corn and jalapeno, mixed with long grain brown rice and Mexican-style spices.

Roe added that busy shoppers are resonating with Reser’s new Deli Preferred line. The convenient, resealable, upscale deli salads are perfect for on-the-go and available in the grab ‘n go section. Flavors of this line include lighter, vinaigrette-based salads like Basil Pesto Bowtie and Lemon Capellini; global varieties like Thai-Style Noodle and Greek Pasta Salad; and classic favorites like Rustic Red Potato Salad. Developed to look made-in-store and capture more refined tastebuds, there is something for everyone in the house. 

“Consumers scan ingredient statements and want to feel good about what they’re eating,” said Roe. “For the most part, they don’t want to sacrifice flavor or taste (or convenience), but we think there may be some flexibility on price. 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.”

Roe noted that products that focus on a single herb or spice, or a primary ingredient, give the consumer a cue of what to expect from the product and can easily sway a customer one way or the other when making their purchasing decision — that’s why it’s so important to offer consumers a good variety to choose from.

Reser’s Korean Style Noodle salad has stood out this year, as consumers are searching out more variety and new cuisine experiences. Roe also reported success with seasonal flavors. The company recently reintroduced its Harvest Turkey salad for the fall and is offering it in multiple formats: Bulk Recovery (add your own protein), Bulk Fully Prepared, and Pre-Packaged under our Deli Preferred, No-Brand label. 


Merchandising tips for instore and online

The cooler weather means more indoor roasting and baking, and center-plate proteins from the oven are also terrific partners to savory baked beans, tangy coleslaw or crunchy grain salads, Roe pointed out.

“Retailers can use these occasions to their advantage by providing obvious pairings that make it easy for consumers to grab and go,” Roe said. “They can also set instore signage as visual cues of seasonal events like tailgating to serve as a reminder of how well the deli provides easy meal solutions.”

Roe pointed out that Reser’s Single Serves are perfect for secondary placement as they are small and can be added into almost any slot in a refrigerated area. He also noted that retailers shouldn’t forget to put their deli salad offerings front-and-center in the online shopping environment too.

“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,” Roe said. “Pandemic-driven shopping behaviors have become routine, and the category needs to build out infrastructure to support a seamless consumer experience from in-store to online. This includes making ‘aisles’ more shoppable, carrying through traditionally in-store promotions and meal deals, to investing in search to drive relevancy against consumer queries. “

Cappelli added that retailers can showcase deli salads alongside other products to push new ideas for meal solutions. Recipe and pairing suggestions can help retailers get a higher dollar ring.