The deli is not often a bottom-line boon for retailers, said Rosita Thomas, president of Manassas, Va.-based Thomas Opinion Research, who with Joel Patterson, owner of Peterborough, N.H.-based Nature’s Green Grocer and a former executive chef and restaurant consultant, offered ways for retailers to increase traffic to their counter service.
“If we want people to make their deli a destination, we need to focus on lowering the negative customer experiences that keep them from coming back,” Thomas said.
According to research she conducted this year for the International Dairy, Deli, Bakery Association in which she surveyed 4,000 consumers on their deli habits, only 35 percent said they would recommend their deli to their friends. Thirty-four percent said they were buying less from their supermarket deli than they did two years ago.
Thomas listed five top reasons why customers were disappointed in their delis: Prices have increased; there were not enough value-priced choices offered in the self-serve deli section; the wait time for service was too long; there were no numbers issued to hold your place in line; and there were not enough healthy choices.
The top three purchase drivers, Thomas found, were perceived freshness of the product, safe-food handling and taste.
Patterson revealed how retailers can improve consumer perceptions and increase deli traffic by creating unique menu items, cross merchandising, highlighting high-margin items and sampling.
Recipes such as soups, lasagna and chicken salad are popular with customers because they’re perceived as taking too much time to prepare at home, he said. To make these items stand out, Patterson suggested including unexpected ingredients like blueberries and blue cheese in chicken salad or creating a fig béchamel cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese.
“Put the figs or blueberries you use in front of the deli case and I guaranteed you, they’ll fly off the shelf,” he said.
Patterson also encouraged retailers to make high-margin items, such as pasta and grain-based dishes, deli staples, and he suggested retailers promote the items on the deli’s menu and through customer taste tests.
“If you sample it, they will eat it. If they eat it, they will buy it,” he said. “Sell them the item you want them to buy, not the item they want to buy.”
Thomas suggested creative strategies such as offering value-priced items, meal specials and sales to show customers that retailers also care about price points. Rewarding customers through frequent buyer cards, promotions and in-store raffles, she said, can help build store loyalty.
“To maximize your benefit, you need to show customers that you care about the same things they care about,” Thomas said.