The COVID-19 pandemic initially diverted consumers away from restaurants and toward grocery stores. As a result, fresh prepared meals offered in grocers’ delis comprised one category that saw significant sales growth. In fact, industry reports show sales of those products increased by nearly 17% percent from September 2020 to September 2021.

But now, restaurants in most states have fully re-opened and consumers are more confident about eating out. The question for delis is: how can they keep customers interested in buying those fresh prepared meals?

Bay Food’s VP of Operations Chris Chatterton and Director of Deli & Emerging Business Erin McCulloch-Crume have a few answers to this question. Here is their advice for how grocery delis can react to consumers’ evolving demands and preferences to compete with customers’ return to restaurants.

Transparent Packaging

“People eat with their eyes,” Chris said. “Presentation is an important part of what makes a deli best-in-class.”

This means customers gravitate toward clear packaging for fresh prepared meals more than to prepackaged items with no visibility to the products inside.

In addition, meals that look like in-store staff prepared them tend to attract customers.

“We see this a lot with delis that have the labor to dedicate to these programs,” Erin said. “They sell prepared meals that look like employees made them in-store but are actually coming in from the manufacturer in a kit form or even fully prepared. To the customer, this implies a level of freshness that they expect when shopping the deli.”

Diverse Offerings

For delis offering fresh prepared meals in only the standard fare – fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, pizza, pastas – consider offering international meals, as well. Meal options that are diverse in flavors and profiles gives deli customers a variety of meals to choose from multiple nights of the week.

“Most people get bored of eating a traditional American meal every night,” Chris said. “Offering Indian, Asian, Latin and other ethnic cuisines will keep customers coming back because they’ll have variety.”

Erin also cautions retail delis not to fear taking a risk on international cuisine.

“The international cuisines will be a higher ring and potentially not as high of velocity as your traditional fare,” she said. “But it can increase overall deli sales because you’re offering that variety that gets the customer in more frequently.”

Erin also highlighted the importance of offering seasonal and limited-time-offer meals to keep the set fresh and seasonally relevant.

Meal Size Varieties and Bundles

Another way delis can compete with customers’ return to restaurants is by offering a variety of meal sizes.

“Delis should offer fresh prepared meals in both family and individual sizes to give customers options,” Erin said.

In addition, Chris emphasized the popularity of bundled products sold as “meal deals.”

“Restaurants offer meal deals, like buying an entrée with an appetizer, dessert and drink for a set price,” Chris said. “Deli customers also respond well to creative bundling of fresh prepared meals and other products. Think, a take-home lasagna with a Caesar salad and a bottle of wine marketed as a date-night meal.”

Delivery Options

Chris and Erin also pointed out that while customers dining out in restaurants poses competition to grocery delis, so do food-delivery services, like UberEats and DoorDash.

“Food-delivery services offer consumers restaurant food at the greatest level of convenience,” Chris said.

So how do grocery delis compete with food-delivery services’ convenience factor?

“Retailers should heavily promote their fresh prepared meals and meal bundles on their websites and apps, and make them available for delivery and pick-up,” Erin said.

We’re dedicated to staying on top of the latest retail food industry trends. Contact us today if you’re interested in how we can help your deli brand or product succeed in retail stores.