Rethink deli platters for greater market potential

These days, office managers hosting catered meetings, small events or work parties always have one eye on fun and the other on the budget. As such, supermarkets and grocers have the power to viably compete against other foodservice businesses to offer affordable dining options for larger parties, especially when dealing in deli platters.

While platters may only represent a small, albeit burgeoning, portion of prepared food sales at U.S. grocers and supermarkets today, a study by the International Dairy, Deli and Bakery Association says it won’t be that way for very long. According to IDDBA research, not only are deli platters already a near $450 million industry, but millennials are more likely to shop at the deli counter than prior generations because of its selection and freshness compared to dining elsewhere. That leaves a lot of potential for growth. Additionally, increasing customer interest in platters only stands to strengthen the deli department’s pricier revenue stream.

“Deli platters are already a near $450 million industry.”

Before businesses decide how to expand deli operations to drive platter sales, managers and supervisors ought to first learn how consumer trends might lend guidance to their initiatives.

Capitalize on freshness
As already mentioned, shoppers respond to freshness, in particular, when choosing between ordering meals from a restaurant versus from a supermarket. A separate IDDBA study takes it one step further – customers graded the safety and freshness of made-to-order deli items like meats, cheeses and salads more than two times higher than goods packaged before the order was placed.

So, what does that tell us? Consumers have greater confidence in meals coming from the deli when they know they were put together at point-of-sale. For supermarkets that save time and labor by pre-assembling platters, it may be time to alter processes to boast a fresher approach to preparation. That said, being on-call to create fresh platters from scratch cannot and should not detract from typical customer service duties. To mitigate the effect platter assembly might have on operations, consider an investment into high-capacity slicing equipment for meat and bread to minimize time intensity and maximize output.

“Consumers have greater confidence in meals coming from the deli when they were put together at POS.”

Experiment with extraordinary fare
Delis are uniquely positioned to offer patrons a variety of prepared foods limited only by the section manager’s imagination. After all, these departments have a whole store full of materials at their disposal, not to mention fresh-made ingredients cooked up in the bakery, seafood section or elsewhere.

Apart from meat and cheese platters and sandwich trays, grocers should work to extend platter menu options to include international meal options. For starters, this gives customers the freedom to explore new tastes and break up luncheon standards without spending too much money.

Furthermore, in a nation as culturally diverse as the U.S., people celebrate in a lot of different ways, but delicious food is the one thing they all usually have in common. Supermarket delis that plant their flag early when it comes to multicultural platters will corner the market on affordable party cuisine and ensure repeat business. However, this may require sensibly investing in new commercial equipment like rotisseries or combi steamers to cook these dishes the right way. If your supermarket thinks diversifying platters makes sound fiscal sense, begin by composing a list of possible goods and try to match preparation needs against possible equipment purchases.

Use social media as marketing
With few exceptions, deli platters accompany a good time. And how else do people these days share their good times with friends and family than through social media? According to the Pew Research Center, 3 out of 4 adults with internet access use social media sites from to their desktops and laptops or through applications on mobile devices.

Let your excellent service speak for itself and encourage customers to take pictures and refer their followers to a Facebook page, Twitter handle or Instagram account specifically owned and operated by the deli counter. Not only will these platforms demonstrate the quality of your service and give your biggest fans a soapbox on which to sing your praises, but it opens a line of dialog between the company and the customers to field questions and offer suggestions. Who knows? The next big idea for your business’s deli platters could come from an unassuming notification.