BALTIMORE -- Shoppers are visiting supermarket delis more frequently than in the past, but when they shop the department they are more concerned about the fat content of products than they were four years ago.
Convenience, too, has become the No. 1 reason for shopping the deli. And only 31% of deli users said seating in the department is important.
These are some of the findings in a survey conducted earlier this year by the Princeton, N.J.-based Gallup Organization for the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. Rosita Thomas, associate director of Gallup's Associations Research Group, presented highlights of the study at IDDA's annual seminar and exposition held here earlier this month.
Thomas compared survey results to those of a similar Gallup study for the trade group in 1990. Both studies included deli users and nonusers and looked at their shopping behaviors, preferences, opinions of delis and satisfaction with products and services.
The new survey involved telephone interviews with 761 deli users and 266 nonusers. Explaining the methodology, she said the first survey question was: Are you responsible for your household's grocery shopping? If the answer was yes, the person was asked if he or she had shopped in a supermarket deli in the last month. Those who said yes were classified as users; those who said no, as nonusers.
"Using those definitions, we found that 63% of those responsible for household grocery shopping shop delis, and 37% do not," Thomas said. But 55% of deli users shop supermarket delis at least once a week. That's up from 49% in 1991. Put another way, deli users visit a supermarket deli 4.8 times a month now, compared with 4.5 times a month in 1990.
Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they shop the deli more than once a week; 38% said once a week; 26% shop two to three times a month; 12%, once a month, and 6% less than once a month.
The groups visiting supermarket delis most frequently are those over age 55, those with an annual income of less than $20,000, and those living in the Northeast and in the South Central regions of the United States, the survey found. The study also revealed that the most frequent deli users are from households that have at least one person in the family who doesn't work full-time.
The least frequent deli users are people who live in the West, those between the ages of 18 and 34, those with incomes of $60,000 or more and those with full-time employment status.
The biggest percentage difference between the recent data and that collected in 1990 had to do with concern about fat content and cholesterol.
Asked if the fat level of a product had a high level of influence on their buying decisions in the deli, 66% said yes, up from 55% answering yes to the same question in the 1990 study, Thomas said. But a greater percentage of the 1994 respondents said they frequently make "trade-offs" -- 27% versus 17% in 1990 -- between low-calorie and high-calorie foods.
Dietary concerns in general were important for a majority of respondents. Fifty-nine percent said the nutritional value of products was very important to them.
Also, those over age 35 showed the most interest in nutrition and so did those with incomes over $60,000 a year. Whites showed more concern than nonwhites.
The No. 1 reason for shopping the deli is convenience, survey respondents said. That differs from 1990 when the No. 1 reason, they said, was to buy cold cuts. Convenience came in second. Now, "to buy cold cuts" has taken second place.
The study also showed that 85% of deli users make most of their deli purchases at a supermarket deli. But one out of four also shops at delis not located in supermarkets.
When it comes to the most frequently consumed deli products now, lean or lowfat meats showed the biggest increase since the 1990 study. At 2.6 times a week, consumption of that category is up 1.3 times a week from the earlier study. And sandwiches, at 3.2 times a week, are the most frequent purchase out of a list of more than 10 deli products. Consumers in the 18 to 34 age group buy sandwiches four times a week, the study shows.
Some of the most consumed deli products by households in 1994 were sandwiches (3.2 times a week); lean or low-fat meats (2.6 times a week); chicken breast (2.3); fried, roasted or barbecued chicken (2.1); hot meal entrees (1.9); natural domestic cheese (1.9); lunch meat sliced to order (1.8); processed cheese slices (1.8); turkey breast (1.4); prepared salads (1.4) and pizza (1.3).
The four least-consumed deli items by household in 1994 were party trays (0.1), Genoa salami (0.2), hard salami (0.3) and soups (0.3).
Shoppers were asked where they buy food when they want to eat at home but don't want to prepare it. Four out of 10 said fast-food restaurants. However, they said they'd prefer to get the food from a deli.