For retail delis looking to add old-style barbecue to their catering menus, Blue Springs, Mo.-based Zarda Bar-B-Q & Catering Co. offers a line of fully cooked, hickory-smoked barbecue meats and beans. Zarda’s baked beans were the first product the company began selling to retail stores 25 years ago.

“For a retailer, barbecue has become one of the most popular menu selections, even for weddings and rehearsal dinners,” said Dave Schwirtz, business development, Zarda Bar-B-Q. “Grocery retailers doing catering well will have a barbecue menu.” 

Zarda’s offerings for retail include sliced brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, pulled chicken, baked beans and St. Louis-style ribs. All meats except for the ribs are shipped frozen in 10-pound cases. The ribs are available in cases of 12 slabs, and the baked beans can be purchased in cases of 12 1-pound containers, eight 3-pound containers or even 18-pound buckets.

The meats that Zarda offers are available with or without sauce. Schwirtz said that retailers in areas that have popular local barbecue sauce companies, such as Nashville, Tenn., may opt to order Zarda meats without sauce to add their own region’s favorite flavors instore. Retailers can also add their own potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese and other deli sides to round out their barbecue catering menus.

“Barbecue is now well beyond the values of Kansas City or the Midwest,” Schwirtz said. “We’re shipping all over — as far up north as Minnesota, as far east as Tennessee, as far south as Texas and as far west as Arizona.”

A key benefit for retailers ordering their barbecue meat from restaurants like Zarda is the authentic hickory-smoked flavor that only comes from the old-style smokers that they use, Schwirtz said.

“All of us in retail, whether it’s restaurant or deli, we’re looking for those repeat sales,” Schwirtz said. “When you present the customer with something that’s authentic, that’s real, you’re going to get an audience. You’re going to wow them. The product speaks for itself. You can build a reputation as a place for barbecue as a retailer.”

Schwirtz said the process for sampling Zarda’s products can be a fun, bonding experience for retailers.

“Barbecue is relational,” Schwirtz said. “Our philosophy is barbecue puts people around the table. We show up and do a catering order for their staff, and their staff is going to taste all of our product line, sauced and without sauce. Sometimes they mix and match. Either way, they’re going to get a great meal and enjoy some Kansas City barbecue.”

For retailers in states further away, Zarda offers to ship the product to them and fly a team out to show retailers how to reheat the products and set everything up.

“When you’re catering, it’s weddings, retirement parties or employee picnics — usually celebrating an accomplishment or benefit,” Schwirtz said. “We do believe that barbecue makes life better and gives us an opportunity to slow down, make conversation.”

When ordering full-service catering of an event, Schwirtz said that consumers typically select ribs, a brisket item, pulled pork and possibly pulled chicken if they are looking for a better-for-you option.

Beyond full-service catering, Schwirtz said there are two other ways retailers can utilize Zarda’s barbecue meats and baked beans.

“We also look at it as drop-off, and then there’s the pickup order,” Schwirtz said. “For the grocery retailer, you’ve got an opportunity to take advantage of your catering in all three areas. What are you doing to generate business in pickup, delivery and full-service?”