Deli packaging dynamics

by Lynn Petrak
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The market for deli meat is split in half not unlike, say, a sandwich.

On one half, many shoppers buy sliced-to-order lunchmeats and other sandwich ingredients at the in-store deli counter. On the other half, there is a large customer base that prefers the refrigerated deli-meat section and its pre-packaged offerings. That customer base may be growing, too: the Chicago-based research firm, Mintel, predicts an 8 percent rise in sales of prepackaged sliced deli meats by 2014.

For the portion of shoppers who visit the refrigerated case for prepackaged lunchmeats, they are seemingly driven there by lifestyle interests and concerns. According to research from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) featured in that group’s “What’s in Store” 2013 report, consumers say they shop for prepackaged deli meat based on price, shelf- life and convenience.

Accordingly, packaging for retail deli meats is geared around those attributes.

Easy does it

Convenience remains a hallmark of today’s deli-meat packaging. A quick scan of the refrigerated deli-meat section underscores a dominance of re-closeable features, from press-to-close to zippers on flexible packages to resealable lids on rigid and semi-rigid tubs. Research bears out that push for resealability: a recent survey from research firm Mintel showed that nearly half (47 percent) of consumers said they purchased lunchmeat in resealable packaging in the prior year.

Many deli-meat packages are pegged (to borrow a retail merchandising term) on recloseability. Oscar Mayer’s cold-cut portfolio – including the Oscar Mayer Selects line with no preservatives, the Deli Fresh line and homestyle Carving Board line – are available in recloseable packages. “Consumers are seeking deli packages that feature better consumer interaction, such as those that are easy to open and reclose,” agrees Maria Bracone, associate director of packaging for Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods Company.

As part of a recent package redesign across its product line, Livingston, Calif.-based Foster Farms worked with visual brand design firm Murray Brand Communications to make changes to its deli-meat packaging, with many updates that center on convenience, like a resealable 10-oz. tub.

While resealability and pre-sliced products are key aspects of convenience, versatility is also tied making things easier for the end-user. Processors are adding more versatility-driven features to deli-meat packages, such as Oscar Mayer’s Deli Fresh Combos that allow for two sliced deli-meat varieties in one package. The Butterball brand from Garner, NC-based Butterball LLC, for its part, offers 9-oz. and 12-oz. variety packs with co-packed Honey Roasted Turkey, Smoked Turkey and Oven Roasted Chicken Breast in a recloseable flexible package.

Quality, price check

As the IDDBA research shows, consumers’ interest in quality and shelf-life is another factor when shopping the prepackaged deli-meat section. Food companies are well aware of consumers’ evolving palates in recent years, and food packages are reflecting that at the point of sale.

For deli meats, that simultaneous clamor for quality and extended shelf-life has led to larger and clearer on-package windows, so consumers can evaluate the product for appearance in a more immediate way.

As part of its new packaging for deli meats, Chicago-based Hillshire Brands added a larger transparent window. “We know that being able to see the lunchmeat is important, but we also found that appetite appeal is driven by many factors. Our latest iteration pairs the best of both with a strong, visually appealing front panel with a broad, clear window on the back to view the product in detail,” says Kevin McTigue, director of Hillshire Farm. According to McTigue, the brand made further improvements in the deli-meat package this July.

As the “What’s in Store” report also pointed out, price is another factor that propels sales of prepackaged deli meats, compared to service counter slice-to-order lunchmeats. Linked to price is value, and to that end, value-sized, deli-meat packages are increasingly common. Oscar Mayer offers family-size packages, with more servings per package in a resealable format, as does Hillshire Brands. The Hormel brand of prepackaged, sliced deli meats, meanwhile, has introduced family packs with honey ham, oven-roasted turkey and smoked turkey.

Given consumers’ concurrent demands for convenience, value and sustainability, it’s not surprising to find packages that reflect all of those trends. Land O’Frost, based in Lansing, Ill., for example, offers a DoubleZip press-to-close flexible package for family size portions that was designed to be both consumer-friendly and eco-friendly. Butterball likewise offers packaging with multiple features for discerning consumers, such as its new Sub Starters product that combines three sandwich meats packaged in a stand-up, resealable 12-oz. pouch.

The billboard effect

In addition to various package elements that have a functional purpose – for merchandising different deli meats to allow for opening and re-closing – deli-meat processors can differentiate their products by high-impact, informational graphics. As part of its redesign, Foster Farms opted for a bright yellow lid to make the package stand out in the case and to immediately signal the Foster Farms brand identity.

Meanwhile, as processors are responding to consumer interest in “cleaner” labels with fewer ingredients, the clean label may also be taken literally. Citing some of Oscar Mayer’s latest and direct, yet eye-catching, on-pack graphics, Bracone says, “Deli-meat graphics are also moving to more authentic where clean fonts and lines and simple graphics are preferred.”

Lynn Petrak is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.
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