Private Label Buyer
Private Eye: Deli

Differences in the Deli Aisle

Our secret shoppers head to their local retailers to find out what’s happening in deli foods.

July 3, 2013
Secret Shopper Deli Products July 2013

Deli products were a $7.8 billion category in 2011, with private label holding a 28.2 percent dollar share, up 1.2 percent from a year earlier, according to Nielsen

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records compiled for the 2012 PLMA Private Label Yearbook.

On the unit side, deli products sold 2.5 billion items in 2011, with private label holding a 20.2 percent unit share, up 1.1 percent from a year earlier.

PLBuyer sent five of its secret shoppers to check out deli items at a Fry’s Food Stores shop in Arizona, part of the Kroger banner, an Ingles Markets store in North Carolina, a Whole Foods Market store in Illinois, a Giant Eagle in Ohio, and a Price Chopper in Missouri.

We asked them to evaluate how their local grocers market and merchandise their deli products. 

In addition to looking for in-store promotions and advertising, shoppers recorded prices of comparable private label and national brand ham, bologna, pepper jack cheese, and potato salad. They then conducted their own product tests in one of these categories.

Here, we provide you with our gathered insight.

Side by Side

All of the secret shoppers this month reported seeing private label deli products shelved side-by-side with national brands in some cases, except for Benjamin R. at Whole Foods Market. Benjamin also was the only one who reported seeing in-store ads for private label products. None of the secret shoppers saw on-shelf price tags comparing brands with the private labels.

In Giant Eagle, Amy K. reported, “All packaging is similar, different areas for most, not all of the deli products are located in the same area of the store.  Some are by the actual deli, some in the lunchmeat/hot dog area, and then the cheeses are in the dairy case.”

Deli items were a tough category for our secret shoppers. In the bologna category, none of our shoppers could find a private label option, except at Giant Eagle, where Valu Time bologna was $1.09 per pound. At Price Chopper Michael G. reported Bar S brand being cheaper than Oscar Mayer, but admitted he wasn't sure it was a private label, which it is not.

At Whole Foods Market, Benjamin didn’t see a private label bologna or ham, however when it came to pepper jack cheese and potato salad, he could only find a store brand option. Likewise, Bill K. at Ingles Market and Sarah C. at Fry’s Food Stores didn’t find a national brand potato salad.

The Laura Lynn potato salad from Ingles was easily the cheapest option of the private label potato salads, on sale for just $1.38 for 1 pound. Michael was the only one who didn’t see a private label potato salad option at Price Chopper, where the retailer offered Reser’s potato salad.

Product Tests

Benjamin enjoyed the Whole Foods Market potato salad available at the salad bar for $8.49 a pound.

“I purchased the deli sliced Bavarian Ham from the Giant Eagle deli counter ($4.99/lb). As someone who prefers to buy my meats and cheeses from the deli counter, I was once again pleased with this product." 

“I purchased some of the prepared potato salad from the cold salad bar. It was outstanding, it was clear this item was prepared fresh in house and was of a higher quality than conventional grocers. The label indicated it was made with all-natural ingredients, free of preservatives.”

Private label ham products got mixed reviews.

Bill tried the Laura Lynn ham from Ingles Market and said it “was OK, but salty and otherwise bland.”

Sarah tried the Private Selection Ham at Fry’s ($8.99/lb) and said she found “not much difference between the deli hams when eating the regular ham. Generally, if I buy deli ham, it will be the Boar’s Head Sweet Slice because it has a sweeter flavor.”

 “I purchased the deli sliced Bavarian Ham from the Giant Eagle deli counter ($4.99/lb),” Amy said. “As someone who prefers to buy my meats and cheeses from the deli counter, I was once again pleased with this product.  The deli also slices the meat fresh, so I can count on the quality of the meat every time I purchase from the deli.”  

“Products which deliver ‘heat’ are still in high demand, but are moving well beyond the old standard jalapeno and cayenne to more varietal chili peppers such as ancho, habanera, guajillo and ghost peppers,”