KANSAS CITY, MO. – Today’s retail shoppers care more than ever about how and where the products they eat are coming from and how they were produced.

As Michael La Kier, chief marketing officer for Marietta, Ga.-based World Select Cuts, pointed out, consumers are on the lookout for products that are better for themselves and better for the environment. But, he added, there’s a perception that products with those qualities are not always so easy to find in the deli case.

“Shoppers increasingly demand more transparency and cleaner, greener options,” said La Kier. “And that’s obviously not always the case within the deli section. A lot of the offerings have kind of stayed the same for a number of years and are not really focused on consumers who seek to eat healthier and more sustainably. We’ve seen that over half of consumers don’t like artificial ingredients in their food and they’re willing to try new things. I think people are ready for something new, something with upgraded quality and ready to think about the deli differently.”

With that in mind, World Select Cuts has made it its mission to deliver handcrafted modern charcuterie meats to customers with a natural advantage. The company’s newest product is Aussie Select, a line of hand-crafted, premium deli meats featuring free-range, pasture-raised Australian lamb. The products are ready to slice and ready to eat.

The Aussie Select deli line includes three flavors:

  • Agave Rosemary Lamb Ham: 100% pure agave syrup and fragrant fresh rosemary with subtle notes of nutmeg, fennel and garlic.
  • Lamb Pastrami: Seasoned with traditional deli flavors like coarse ground black pepper, coriander and brown sugar, then smoked with hickory and mesquite, yielding a pleasant peppercorn bite with a tender texture.
  • Tikka Masala Lamb Ham: Warm toasted flavors of classic Indian Masala spices, balancing cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and nutmegs in a robust rub.

“The attributes we get from the lamb in terms of being high in protein, the fact that our meats have not touched any type of artificial growth hormones, they’re all-natural, and then as we handcraft the meat, they’re free from artificial additives,” La Kier said. “The goal is to make it a pure product of a pure environment.”

Shoppers are paying attention to product claims

A large majority of shoppers (82%) say they actively look for at least one front-of-package claim when they are determining which food and beverage products to place in their basket, according to Arlington, Va.-based FMI – The Food Industry Association’s 2020 Grocery Shopper Trends report.

“Shoppers focus on wholesome foods with minimal processing that help them avoid negatives, especially sugar and sodium,” the report reads. “They also pay close attention to the level of processing, looking for claims such as natural (27%), no artificial ingredients (28%), or having no preservatives (28%).”

Shoppers also gauge the health of products by placing importance on transparency and business practices of retailers and brands. According to FMI’s report, 50% of shoppers place very high importance that their primary grocery store is open and honest about business practices.

About a third (33%) of customers look for brands that are highly transparent about ingredients, sourcing, production and business practices. Nearly 30% of shoppers look for free-range, grass-fed, cage-free, fair trade or certified human claims on their packaging, and 32% of shoppers use QR codes in-store to learn more about the manufacturer’s social responsibility and sustainability practices —up 12% from 2019.

“To continue to earn shopper trust, retailers must continue to clearly communicate established practices around ingredients, supply chain, manufacturing, workforce and those business practices that signal their best intentions and efforts on behalf of shoppers, their community, and the world at large,” said FMI’s report.

Helping customers find the right product

While consumers might perceive prepackaged deli meats to be more processed, and less healthy for their diets, Shelley Venenga, brand manager of Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Deli Solutions, reported that many consumers see freshly sliced deli meats as more wholesome, because they are right in front of them and they can watch the deli staff freshly slice the meat. 

“There are several opportunities for retailers to correct misconceptions with consumers,” Venenga said. “Knowledgeable staff in the deli is a key driver to helping educate consumers. Also, helping consumers via signage, instore dietitians and online content to drive home health messages regarding protein, fat and sodium content or any other health claims for the various products offered in the deli.”

In general, Hormel offers plenty of low-fat, gluten-free, keto-friendly and high protein options that customers are on the lookout for, said Megan Ward, brand manager of Hormel Deli Solutions.

“We are continually innovating and listening to our customers and consumers about what they are looking for,” Ward said. “Products that are low in sodium, preservative-free, no antibiotics ever and uncured are on-trend in this area and we have many varieties under the Hormel Foods brand portfolio that fit this need.”

Ward pointed to products under the company’s Jennie-O, Hormel Natural Choice, Columbus and Applegate brands that offer great options for consumer preferences like natural and organic, humanely raised and no antibiotics ever, as well as minimally processed products.

It’s more important than ever for retailers to ensure that product claims for deli-case meats are visible to the consumer — either on the package or via case clings or shelf tags. 

Cross-merchandising with other healthy ingredients can also help deli meats reach health-conscious consumers. Hormel works with several retail partners to showcase healthy recipes and highlight ingredient statements that help consumers know just how nutritious deli meat can be.

Retailers also have an opportunity to reach health-minded consumers with grab-and-go products that call attention to healthful attributes, pointed out Adam Grant, assistant brand manager of deli for Garner, NC-based Butterball. 

“The pandemic led to a rapid adoption of an already growing Grab & Go segment, both by retailers and consumers,” said Grant. “Grab & Go means consumers can enjoy the health benefits and freshness of service deli meats without the wait of the deli counter.”

Butterball offers a portfolio of fresh-cut deli meats that are high-protein, naturally lean, whole breast meat with no nitrates or nitrites in 12 different flavors. The company is looking to introduce Butterball Grab & Go later this year to meet consumers’ interest and needs, while offering retail partners more solutions for growth by elevating the experience with brand and variety.