One veteran retailer I recently spoke with recalled that early deli departments got what everyone else didn't want. In fact, the deli was basically created to sell the luncheon meats and cheeses (and even rotisserie chicken) that were kicked out of the service meat case.
Today's deli is getting a lot more respect. These days, it's not uncommon for deli buyers to get calls from produce processors eager to pitch their fresh-cut snack products. And, there's even talk of moving some ready-to-cook items from the meat department -- kabobs, stuffed chicken breasts and the like -- into the deli. It seems the department is re-emerging as the supermarket industry's lead player in taking on all the competition that's sprung up from convenience stores and quick-service restaurants.
The experimentation with full-scale, home-meal replacement a few years ago may have failed as originally conceived, but it challenged retailers to think in new ways, and what we're seeing today is the result of hard lessons learned, and a resilient attitude determined to make supermarkets a valid, legitimate option for today's restless consumer.
Like those alternate concepts, a well-planned supermarket deli reflects convenience, quality and variety -- the top attributes consumers look for in all prepared foods.
Supermarket delis offer convenience with fully cooked rotisserie meats, sandwich stations and focused grab-and-go cases. The Fresh Market feature story on Page 23 takes a look at self-service in particular, and at some of the successful ideas that are making it grow and helping the whole deli become a multi-daypart destination once again. And don't forget that convenience goes beyond product. Progressive retailers are installing advance ordering systems and express checkouts to speed the customers on their way.
Retailers have also raised the bar on quality by bringing in more food-service name brands and enhancing the image of their private-label products, most of which now sport the word "premium" on the label. Enhancing all this is the progress we've made in overhauling retailer-vendor relationships, and the willingness to share information to build brand synergy.
In regards to variety, go back to your self-service case and take inventory. A well-stocked display spotlights core products, but is flexible enough to adapt to changing meal times -- sandwiches from lunch can be rotated out, and fried chicken and meat loaf dinners can be put in. In fact, made-to-order sandwiches are what Tom Thumb stores are working on, and details of that program are also in the Fresh Market section this week.
One of the key lessons retailers learned with HMR is that it's not necessary to be all things to all people. We've learned it's almost desirable to have a reputation for one or two products, like a moist, flavorful rotisserie chicken or a killer sandwich program, just like McDonald's is known for its Big Mac, or Outback Steakhouse for its Bloomin' Onion. Success resides within a much larger context, in that your store should be the choice for your best, top-line signature effort, the one thing a consumer desires over all the other choices out there.