Deli delights

Three years ago, Shaun Fairweather refitted his butcher’s shop in Mirfield, West Yorkshire with new counters and decided to stock a range of Continental deli products alongside traditional cooked meats. Customers had been asking for salamis, chorizo and other charcuterie, and the new counters gave him the space to stock them.

The decision paid off. Fairweather says the counters have virtually paid for themselves in increased sales. “As well as traditional meats – roast beef, roast ham, roast pork, just the basic cooked meats – we now also sell speciality meats, cheeses, a wide range of olives, salamis, different types of pastrami, chorizo, things like that,” he says. “It has really taken off.”

Fairweather is not alone. His experience reflects the marketplace as a whole. Data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that sales of Continental meats rose by 10% during the past 12 months (52 w/e 18 April), to £184m.

It is one of the fastest-growing areas of the total sliced cooked meats market, which overall is worth £1.99bn, up 5.7% year-on-year in terms of spend (Kantar 52 w/e 18 April). Volumes of cooked meat rose less steeply, up 3.7%, reflecting the fact that prices have risen over the past year.

Although rising meat prices have contributed to this growth, Bpex says the growing number of people choosing to prepare their own lunch at home, either for health or financial reasons, has driven volume sales. Ham remains the most popular sliced cooked meat by far, with over a 53% volume share, and is used mainly for lunches. According to Bpex, it is encouraging to see that, despite its stronghold, ham is still managing to gain additional value and volume sales. Value has increased 4.9% while volume has grown by 4.2% year-on-year. Interestingly, pork as a sliced cook meat has recorded the biggest increase, with over 12% growth in value and volume respectively. Cooked chicken is worth £182m, cooked turkey £126m and cooked beef £123m and all saw sales rise over the past year by 4.5%, 6.1% and 7.9% respectively.

Bpex butchery and product development manager Keith Fisher says: “For many working people it was the norm to buy lunch every day, rather than take in their own homemade snack. However, when recessions hit, people tighten their purse strings and eating out at lunch time is one of the luxuries that often goes.”
Butchers are well-placed to benefit from this trend. “Although butchers represent a small section of the sliced cooked meat market, consumers are increasingly looking for quality meat when preparing their own sandwiches, baguettes and cold platters,” says Fisher. “This is especially helpful if it is identified by a scheme logo, such as the Red Tractor, or produced in the shop by the butcher.

“Certainly when it comes to ham, local butchers and forward-thinking outlets have been able to capitalise on this trend, as they introduce more cured meats into their ranges, including Continental-style meats – salamis and salt beef, for example. This shows the consumer that Continental-style meats can be produced in Britain which are not only great-tasting but from traceable origins.”

Rob McFarlane, commercial director for meats at DBC Foodservice, also believes convenience is driving increased sales of cooked meats and deli products. He says that higher-quality products are seeing a particular surge in demand. “People are more interested in where products are coming from and they are certainly more interested in Red Tractor and farm-assured products.”

A warm spring also helped to boost cooked meat sales this year, as consumers ate al fresco and hosted parties to celebrate the Royal wedding. “We had the warmest April on record and that meant more picnics,” says McFarlane.

Another recessionary trend that has benefited sales is increased home cooking. Simon Day, founder of wholesaler Unearthed, says sales of his Continental meats have grown by around 14% in the past year. “Chorizo in almost any form has been an absolute star performer,” he says, which is due in part to its increased use in celebrity chefs’ recipes.

Alan Davies, customer relations manager of Stephen’s Fresh Foods has seen the same trend. Chorizo, despite not being a new product to the market, has been the star performer of the past year, he says.  “There has been a big groundswell and a slow burn start and this is just the fruition of that,” he says. “There has definitely been more interest in that product over the last 18 months. People are seeing it more commonly and they know what it is now.”

Prices on the up

The past year has seen prices of cooked meats shoot up. Prices of certain imported cooked meats have gone “mad” says McFarlane. “On things like corned beef, prices have gone crazy. At the beginning of the year, we saw prices going up like never before. At one stage we were struggling just to get hold of corned beef. The price went up dramatically because Argentina was exporting less of it, so there was a general shortage.” So far, it seems these price rises have not adversely affected consumer demand for cooked meats.

European charcuterie has also been subject to price rises partly due to the exchange rate being unfavourable to the pound. In the UK, home-produced meat has also seen price rises due to increased input costs, such as animal feed.

Strong growth might seem surprising given rising prices and the economic climate, but Jean Edwards of Deli Farm Charcuterie believes the fact that consumers consider premium cooked meats and deli products an affordable treat has helped shield the sector from decline.

However, Davies at Stephens Fresh Foods adds that, in his experience, the sector, especially home-produced cooked meats, has not been as buoyant as in previous years: “If you look at the period from last summer through to Christmas, we found sales were quite buoyant for cooked meats generally, but we have seen a gradual slowing of the market since the bad weather in December, and Christmas wasn’t as good as the year before. We are certainly seeing good trends in Continental meats and charcuterie, but not so much in domestic volumes.”

The success of the sector is influenced by the weather, and Davies says sales have improved recently. “We certainly experience excellent sales when the sun comes out and we have certainly seen more positive customer behaviour since this spell of good weather,” he says.

For Shaun Fairweather, the move into delicatessen products has been a huge success. “I think if we hadn’t done it, we would have been left behind,” he says. “You’ve got to listen to your customers rather than being stuck in the past. I’ve been in this industry since 1982, but I am only 41, so I have had to change with the times.”

Bpex says its research shows that traditional pork pies, cold eating pies and other ready-to-eat snacks from butchers’ deli counters are also proving to be popular sellers. The point of difference here is that consumers can be confident in the quality and origin of the pies’ meat content, most of which is prepared from scratch on the premises.

Shaun’s strategy means that cooked meats and deli products now make up 40-50% of his sales. “We make a lot of our own products,” he says. “And currently we are the third best pork pie in Yorkshire according to the Great Yorkshire Butchers pork pie and sausage competition.”

Other butchers are recognising the value of having award-winning cooked meat products. From the latest series of Bpex Roadshows, alongside an increasing number of new products, butchers’ traditional home-made pies have performed exceptionally well. This has culminated in four of the seven regional champion awards being presented to butchers for their pies.

Fisher says: “The Regional Roadshow and Product Evaluation Events offer a fantastic opportunity to get independent, expert feedback on their deli products. This, in turn, is used to make improvements and can even help develop new products, while any awards received can be used to gain valuable PR exposure which in turn can increase footfall and sales.”

Another advantage of stocking a range of cooked meats is that they tend to have a greater profit margin than raw product. “The profit side of it is far better than just selling a gammon steak,” says Shaun. “When you’ve cooked it, you’ve gone to the trouble of taking all the fat off, putting it in your window and slicing it for the customer, your mark-up price is bigger than if we were slicing it as a gammon steak.”

Patrick Strainge, who runs butchers’ shops in Bampton and Witney, Oxfordshire, agrees. As well as selling cooked beef, pork, hams and ox tongues, Patrick sells filled baguettes, made to order in the shop. “We cook the joints ourselves and we do baguettes. So if the customer wants beef and salad we slice the meat off the joint and put it in. It does draw quite a few people in.”

Aside from buying cooked meat as sandwich fillings, Strainge says his cooked meat products are popular for reheating at home. “Sometimes, older people want a slice but cut thick, so then they’ve got a roast,” he says. Cooked meats make up around 10% of his total sales.

Patrick specialises in local and British meats. He doesn’t sell Continental meats due to lack of demand in the area. “Everything we do is local or from farms I know, so I look out for that when I am buying things. I do buy odd things in, but as much as possible I like to be British. The cheeses I buy in are British. Of course, corned beef comes from Argentina but that is one of the few things I sell that is foreign. I like everything I sell to be local and, if not local, British.”

However, it all depends on the local customer. According to Deli Farm Charcuterie’s Jean Edwards, increasing numbers of butchers are now stocking imported charcuterie and Continental meats. “A lot more butchers are increasing their charcuterie lines,” she says. “They are doing the salamis, the air-dried hams, and it is probably to do with the way people are now shopping. Once you have got the customer in a shop, then you may as well stock a wide range of products.”

Davies agrees that the relatively high cost of charcuterie and Continental meats has not deterred many butchers from offering a wide range: “There is more of a competition out there to hook customers, give them something out of the ordinary and tempt them away from competitors with something no-one else is offering and the easy way to do that is to use something that has not been used before commonly and also to demonstrate differentiation.”

He believes consumers who shop with independent butchers are more receptive to premium products: “There was an initial groundswell towards cheap products when the credit crunch was biting, but I think now customers are more discerning, so they want to buy higher-quality cuts.”

For some manufacturers, the most expensive products are the best-performing. Jean says bresaola, a premium cured meat is selling so well, that Deli Farm Charcuterie has developed new versions: “Our bresaola is made with the lean eye muscle of sirloin, which is probably the most expensive way of doing it, but it is selling very well and holding its own,” she says. “We’ve also launched a new venison bresaola.” In addition, Deli Farm Charcuterie has recently developed a saffron salami and a truffle salami, among other luxury products. “It is very much for the luxury market, because it is made with fresh truffles and a really good truffle oil,” she says. “We have also done a wild venison salami and a wild venison bresaola and a pancetta.”

Cooked meats and deli products are an ideal area for independents to do what they do best – offering quality products with personal service. “Independents can do things that are specific to them such as cooking their own hams or doing their own pies, making something that is unique to them to give consumers a reason to call in,” says McFarlane. “If you are trading against a big retailer you might not have the buying power, but you can offer quality and service.”