NEW YORK -- Retailers who know their customers are still carb-conscious are making the most of new deli items on the market that can give them an edge.
Low-carb dieting may be losing its fever pitch, as the consumer press has recently reported, but healthier eating looks like it's here to stay. Indeed, supermarket deli directors told SN low-carb and no-carb items are still in demand.
Certainly, in the Northeast, where more people are diet-conscious, retailers are jumping on the opportunity to promote a new line of zero-carb deli meats launched earlier this year by Glendale, N.Y.-based provisioner Hansel 'n Gretel. The company, extending its Healthy Deli meats line, has added a line-up of zero-carb items, including two varieties of zero-carb bologna.
With the debut of zero-carb ham, the first in its new collection, Hansel 'n Gretel rated a spot on the front page of Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper Supermarket's ad circular. Healthy Deli's distinctive tape-measure logo was part of the ad with a star burst exclaiming, "New Item." Most recently, the 106-unit chain led off its Memorial Day Weekend deli ad with a third of the page devoted to Hansel 'n Gretel's Healthy Deli zero-carb cooked ham, roast beef and bologna.
Already, over the last year, supermarket delis have benefited from the consumer trend to shave carbs and eat more protein, but now they're adding products marketed as zero-carb as they become available -- if they taste good.
"If low-carb is good, then isn't no-carb even better, providing the taste is there, too?" one retailer rhetorically asked.
Coming up, on June 11, Morton Williams Associated Stores, New York, will lead off its deli ad with Healthy Deli zero-carb ham and has planned to spotlight one of the company's other zero-carb meats every other week during the summer, said Richard Travaglione, vice president, operations, at the 10-unit independent.
"People want zero carbs, and these products are good. They taste like the regular versions of the meats. The turkey is nice and sweet. I don't know how they did it; there's no sugar in anything," Travaglione said.
He added that he has blocked off a section in his service deli cases that's specifically for zero-carb items, including Healthy Deli's zero-carb turkey, bologna, roast beef and ham. "Such a section just makes it easier for the customer to spot, and hopefully we'll draw people from nearby supermarkets who aren't doing things like that," Travaglione said.
Meanwhile, Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa., is promoting Healthy Deli zero-carb items in its weekly print circular and with in-store signage, officials there said.
Even though much of what's sold in the deli is low carb and some is no carb, Weis officials said they feel it's important to carry items that are spotlighted as zero carb because the information is simple and quickly read. A colorful zero-carb display with signs also is eye-catching.
"It gives customers clear and concise information. For instance, we're promoting our zero-carb ham in next week's circular, and in the ad, we explain how the item contains zero carbs and is fat free. The taste is there, too. You would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this zero-carb and regular ham," said Dennis Curtin, spokesman for the 157-store chain.
Weis is currently carrying Hansel 'n Gretel's zero-carb ham, classic German bologna and beef bologna.
The company pushed off a HealthyBites program a little more than a year ago that's overseen by a registered dietitian, and Healthy Deli zero-carb deli meats occasionally have a spot in an ongoing HealthyBites ad that focuses on two particular health themes per month, Curtin explained.
"Our Healthy Deli program is in alignment with our efforts to give our customers usable information on health and nutrition through our [in-store] HealthyBites program."
Most retailers who have talked to SN recently stress they are looking for ways to fulfill their customers healthy-eating needs, whatever they are.
Tony Doering, senior deli manager, at Quillin's, a nine-unit independent in LaCrosse, Wis., said his deli has become a destination since the low-carb craze began, but he has been waiting for manufacturers to catch up with some good-tasting, low- or zero-carb salads. Recently, they have, he said.
"The first ones that came out were terrible. People won't buy things that don't taste good, but now the salad people have got some really good products. We're carrying some and people like them," Doering said.
When Hansel 'n Gretel set out to develop a zero-carb line of deli meats, it knew it could not sacrifice flavor or mouth-feel, but it also knew it had to think of ways to help the retailer communicate where the products are in the store, said Ron Walser, the provisioner's chief operating officer.
To that end, the company developed point-of-sale materials and distinctive new packaging.
"We encourage retailers to create a low-carb corner in the case. Our packaging, used together, sets up a billboard inside the deli case," Walser said.
No matter that sales are declining for stores that specialize in low-carb items, the supermarket deli is holding steady with such products, retailers told SN.
As one industry source put it, people may not be on the Atkins or South Beach diet five years from now, but that doesn't mean consumers won't remain carb-conscious as part of their new attention to living a healthier lifestyle.
"I do not think we'll ever go back to total indulgence. We're reading labels more than ever before, and I see 'perceived-better-for-you' foods gaining in popularity, with indulgent items used only for special occasions," said Ira Blumenthal, president, Co-Opportunities, an Atlanta-based consulting and marketing firm.