As the warm-weather season approaches, retailers are heating up their deli-tray programs to capture additional shares of the market, with some expecting to see sales increases of 20% or more.
But in interviews with SN, several deli executives made it clear they were not just reheating last year's leftover ideas. They are adding elements such as stronger advertising, updated brochures and expanded product lines.
They are taking steps to make sure their party offerings stand out, such as trotting out specialty products like deviled-egg trays, or even running up the local high schools' flags in the department, to drum up some spirit as well as business.
Among those expecting to see double-digit increases is Rosauers Supermarkets, a 13-store, Spokane, Wash., chain that is already benefiting from the favorable reception given its new four-color brochure.
A Rosauers executive said that sales could climb 25%, as they did during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holiday season.
Richfood Holdings, a 17-store, Richmond, Va., chain, anticipates a 20% to 30% increase in deli-tray sales, spurred by advertising at levels usually reserved for the Christmas-New Year's season. The company is also currently developing a more well-rounded deli-tray program that will help it compete more effectively with local caterers.
Here's more from these retailers and others about the sunny forecast for deli-tray sales during the coming season:
Don Whittaker deli buyer/merchandiser
Deli-tray sales have been up substantially -- about 25% since the Thanksgiving holiday season -- thanks to our new, full-color brochure, and we expect to see similar increases during the spring and summer seasons.
The new brochure, which measures about 8 3/4 inches by 8 3/4 inches, features a fold-over front cover that is cut out around depictions of two of our deli trays. The brochure is very colorful, and it's almost twice the width of our previous brochure, which featured a black background throughout.
We used our Thanksgiving newspaper advertisements to tell customers about the new brochures. The ads encouraged customers to visit our deli departments to pick up a new brochure and told them that we had added four new trays to our selection.
The four new trays feature deviled eggs, a spinach dip, finger sandwiches, and cheese and fruit. In total, we offer 15 trays, which include entrees and appetizers, in three sizes each.
The surprise seller of the new introductions has definitely been the deviled egg tray. It's a plain, old-fashioned dish, but it's been very successful. It's increased our overall business, because it's a supplement to most of the other trays. Our customers are adding it onto about 20% of the orders they're placing.
It's a great item, because it generates a good profit margin. The food costs are very, very low, even though it is labor-intensive.
We sell a small tray of deviled eggs, which feeds 12 to 18, for $9.99. Our medium-sized tray feeds 24 to 30 and retails for $12.99, and our large-sized tray, which feeds 40 to 48, retails for $14.99.
We introduced the tray because a number of customers had asked if we offered deviled eggs. It's not something we would necessarily have thought of ourselves.
Another new tray that's also done very well is our spinach dip tray. Again, it's a simple tray -- consisting of a hollowed-out round bread in the middle, filled with homemade spinach dip and surrounded by freshly baked pieces of baguette bread. It has a starting retail of $12.99 for a small size.
In addition to our new items, we offer a wide selection of other trays featuring such things as meat, meat and cheese, cheese and fruit, meatballs and drumsticks, shrimp, antipastos and finger sandwiches.
Our most expensive tray is our shrimp tray, which feeds up to 35 in the large size and retails for $109.99.
In addition to our new brochure and our new offerings, I think we'll attract graduation business by offering $5-off coupons in our newspaper advertisements. We plan to start the advertisements about the end of May and run them through mid-June.
All our deli trays are made to order. That's one of our key selling points -- the freshness of our products. We ask for 24-hours notice. Most customers pick up their deli-tray orders, although we do offer delivery service Monday through Friday. No minimum order is required.
As for repeat business, each store encourages repeat -- as well as new -- business in its own way. The personnel at some stores take sample trays to past business customers around holiday time and often do the same to new businesses in the area.
VP, deli, bakery and specialty departments
We're hoping to increase our sales by 20% to 30% this season by supporting our deli-tray program with the type of strong advertising support we usually reserve for our Christmas and New Year's holiday season.
We'll feature four or five of our top-selling trays on a fold-over flap that's part of our newspaper circular. The flap -- or gate, as it's called -- is eye-catching and will include a $5-off coupon toward any full-sized platter.
The advertisements will coincide with high school graduations.
In addition to the advertisements, we offer brochures and in-store signage year-round in our stores, and we're currently displaying a lot of the local high school flags in our deli departments to help encourage the graduation business.
The increased advertising is only a first step in our plan to compete more effectively with the local caterers in our areas. We're also developing a number of new party trays -- our first hot trays and additional appetizer selections -- that we hope to introduce by the Thanksgiving holiday season.
For the appetizer trays we're considering a combination of such items as stuffed jalepeno peppers, mozzarella sticks, blooming onions -- a breaded and deep-fried dish -- and pizza appetizers.
We think the expanded appetizer selection will help us capture more of the Super Bowl and other sporting-event type of business. Although we currently offer a few appetizer selections -- such as sandwich platters and wings -- we felt that some customers were going elsewhere for better selections.
We're also considering offering branded trays -- such as something from Sara Lee Healthy Choice.
All in all, we hope to create a more well-rounded program that will appeal to more people. We're taking it step-by-step. It's an evolution.
Our deli trays are made to order, so we ask that customers provide us with 48-hours notice, if possible. Most customers pick up their orders.
We currently offer about 14 different items -- most of which are available in full and half-platters. Our typical full platter feeds about 20 to 25, and our typical half-platter feeds about 12 to 15.
We offer a number of meat and cheese platters, which generate our strongest sales, along with platters devoted to cheese, vegetables, wings and sandwiches.
We don't currently have a program to encourage repeat business, but we have been collecting the names and addresses of deli-tray customers for the past few years and hope to eventually build a program around that list.
Our most expensive tray features a combination of meats -- roast beef, cooked ham, corned beef, turkey breast and salami -- along with Swiss and American cheese, potato salad, cole slaw, pickles and a choice of rye or pumpernickel bread or Kaiser rolls. A full tray retails for $79.99.
food-service director West Point Market
We have a truly amazing deli-tray program in that most of the business -- about 80% -- is generated by word-of-mouth. We get so many referrals that it's hard to keep up with all the orders.
The season's business starts in May with First Communions and then moves on to graduations, then weddings or engagement parties. We find that corporate events generate business throughout the week, with the parties taking over on the weekends.
Although we didn't make any changes in our seasonal offering, we did increase our prices slightly, due mostly to normal cost increases.
We increased the price of our specialty meat and cheese platter by 66 cents per person; our homestyle deluxe meat and cheese tray by 40 cents per person; our miniature meat platter by about $2 per platter; and our miniature salad sandwich platter by about $2 per platter.
Although we also customize trays, our main selection includes the four following offerings:
Our specialty meat and cheese platter, which now retails for $7.95 per person, features roast beef, smoked turkey, Black Forest ham, Emmenthaler cheese (a gourmet Swiss cheese), pasta salad, black and green olives, tangy mustard, mayonnaise, dill pickles, homemade sandwich rolls from our bakery.
Our homestyle deluxe meat and cheese tray, which now retails for $7.29 per person, features turkey, honey cured ham, roast beef, baby Swiss and Colby cheese, black and green olives, tangy mustard, mayonnaise, rolls and a choice of homemade potato or macaroni salad.
Because these trays are priced per-person, we usually require minimum orders for 10 people.
Our miniature meat and miniature salad sandwich platters are geared toward customers who want their sandwiches premade. They're both great for engagement parties and the like. They retail for $35 and $32 per dozen, respectively.
The miniature meat platter consists of three sandwich varieties, all of which are on buttered croissants. They are smoked turkey with chutney mayonnaise, prime roast beef with homemade horse radish sauce, and Black Forest ham with Emmenthaler cheese and tangy mustard.
The miniature salad sandwich platter consists of four homemade sandwich salad varieties on mini silver dollar buns. They are tarragon chicken salad, egg salad, ham salad and tuna salad. Customers can choose any combination of varieties for their platter.
We believe very strongly in offering high-quality products that are visually appealing. All our trays are silver chrome platters that we shrink wrap and add a gold West Point Market sticker to.
We encourage repeat business in a number of ways. Although we don't have a formal program, I often send a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine with first-time orders and sometimes offer individual customers a discount when they order the second time. In addition, I often send thank you cards to really good customers.
Carr Gottstein Foods
For us, spring graduation coincides with the beginning of our fishing and tourism season. As a result, most Alaskans, who are tired of being cooped up all winter, want to spend as much time outdoors as possible.
Unfortunately, deli trays don't always fit into their activities. They're looking for something that they can grab, throw in the backseat of their vehicle and take off with for the nearest campsite.
That's why 75% to 80% of our deli-tray business occurs throughout the winter season -- which usually starts around Halloween and goes through Easter. Spring and summer have traditionally been fairly slow times for our deli-tray program.
Nevertheless, we introduced three new deli trays -- featuring buffalo wings, mini egg rolls and cheese chunks -- around the Thanksgiving holiday that are geared toward the more casual spring and summer business.
Our buffalo wing tray consists of 3 1/4 pounds of wings, a pound of celery sticks and ranch dressing. Our mini egg roll tray consists of 3 1/2 pounds of egg rolls with sweet-and-sour sauce in the middle.
The cheese chunk tray -- called our "appeteaser" cheese tray -- consists of 3 3/4 pounds of cheese -- cojack, medium cheddar, Swiss and pepper jack -- served on a 12-inch lazy susan with a port wine or cheddar cheese ball in the middle. It retails for $29.99.
All three of the new items are designed to make customers more comfortable with taking them to their spring and summer activities.
In our deli-tray program, the sandwiches are served on 16-inch trays and include the following four varieties served on specialty bread: turkey and sun-dried tomatoes; proscuitto and dry Italian salami; roast beef and cheddar cheese; and Virginia ham and pepperjack cheese. They retail for $34.95.
We currently offer about 14 deli trays, including the new additions, which represent line expansions rather than replacements.
We promote the deli-tray program with in-store signage year-round and heavy cross merchandising throughout the store around the holidays.
bakery, deli director
June is definitely our busiest month during the spring and summer season, accounting for about 60% of our deli-tray sales. Most of our business during the month is derived from local graduations -- high school, middle school and grade school -- although weddings also account for a good portion of sales.
Our top-two selling trays are our meat and cheese tray and our vegetable tray, respectively. The first features ham, turkey breast, Muenster, Swiss cheese, pickles and olives. The second features celery, baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, cucumber, green onions, black olives and a creamy ranch dip. They complement each other and are often ordered together.
During the past year, we added a shaved meat tray, which has been fairly successful. It contains turkey, ham, roast beef and corned beef.
In total, we offer about 25 trays, available in large and medium sizes.
We promote our trays primarily through a 12-page, full-color brochure that features deli, bakery and produce trays, turkey dinners, gift baskets and floral.
In addition, our bakery department has a small wedding cake brochure that includes a picture of our deli-tray offerings and encourages customers to pick up a deli brochure in the deli department for more information.
director, deli and food-service operations
We offer a little more than two dozen deli trays, which we promote primarily through our store's party-book brochure, which covers a number of department offerings. The full-color brochure contains 14 pages, with six of them devoted to deli.
Most of our customers pick up a brochure, take it home and call in their orders. They can pick up the order or have it delivered for a charge of $20 to $25. We ask for 24-hours notice, but we try to accommodate all requests.
Graduation is our busiest time during the spring and summer season, with our deluxe party tray -- which includes meat and cheese -- being our most popular item. It includes roast beef, baked ham, corned beef, turkey breasts and three varieties of cheeses. A tray for 10 people retails for $29.99. I think our customers choose it because of the variety of meats offered and the fact that they're all of top quality.
We did implement a slight price increase this year -- probably about 10 to 20 cents per serving -- due to labor costs.