Skip navigation
deli area.png Getty Images
Holiday meals are evolving—there are typically more than one or two cooks in the kitchen.

Activity cranks up at deli during the holidays

The deli is one of the most popular places in the store during the holiday season with charcuterie, tapas, and passed hors d’oeuvres in demand more than ever

One of the busiest times of the year for the supermarket deli is at the end of the calendar. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve bring consumers to the department in hordes.

And the holidays this year will be no exception, according to Accenture’s 17th Annual Holiday Shopping Survey, which surveyed 120 retail executives.

In fact, 66% of respondents reported that their profit margin targets for the 2023 holiday season are higher than last year, with almost half of retail executives noting they are planning to focus on availability guarantees as part of their plan to win consumer spend over the holiday season.

“Constant changes in consumer sentiment are putting a lot of pressure on retailers’ operational agility and responsiveness,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and global lead for Accenture’s retail industry practice. “For retailers to drive strong and profitable growth, they must reinvent their supply chains to build resilience and unlock new levels of agility so that they can accurately deliver a wide selection of products to meet a wide range of consumer expectations.”

Holiday meals are evolving—there are typically more than one or two cooks in the kitchen.

“There are now gatherings like Friendsgiving where one person may bring a side dish, one a dip, one something else,” said Whitney Atkins, vice president of marketing for the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). “Holidays have been a key time of year for retail delis.”

Top Holiday Picks

Prepared foods from the deli department are at the top of consumers’ wish list for the holidays, with appetizers and side dishes among the most popular, according to a new report from Circana. Retailers without sophisticated prepared food offerings are bundling national- and private-label products for a holiday feast at a value-driven price point.

“Nowadays, an increasing number of people don’t have the time or desire to spend much time in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and cleaning up,” said John Alfano, deli purchaser for Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based Doris Italian Market & Bakery. “Prepared foods are a great alternative ... We all have a lot on our plate, so it can be cumbersome with work and family commitments to carve out the time to slice, dice, chop, and bake to plate the perfect holiday dinner.”

For Thanksgiving, turkey and spiral ham are the most popular entrees at his store, which are included in three catering
packages at the deli.

“Customers enjoy herb stuffing, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and green bean almondine for side dishes,” Alfano said. “Charcuterie boards are very popular for any type of gathering, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve or any other party year-round. We sell a wide assortment of meats and cheeses in our deli department to assemble your own charcuterie board. It’s popular for hosts to make it themselves or for guests to bring it as their potluck contribution.” 

At Dave’s Fresh Marketplace, an independent grocery chain throughout Rhode Island, the big deli items for the holidays include salumi, prosciutto, gourmet cheeses and traditional olives, said Susan Budlong, director of marketing for the retailer.

“Authentic Italian cold cuts always stand out with our customers during the holiday season,” she said. “The ability to have something sliced the way you like it is key; to a have staff member recommend a flavor, a local brand, or something that will complement a meal is also very important.”

And of course, main-dish prepared foods for all holidays can also be sold out of the deli cases and prepacked for ease as part of a supermarket’s foods-to-go program. At Dave’s Fresh Marketplace, fresh fish is on the menu.

“Top sellers include our complete holiday meals for 8-10 people: made in-house fresh lobster risotto balls, baked stuffed shrimp and lobster tails, chicken marsala, and lasagna,” Budlong said. “Because of the success in delis, deli platters are in high demand as they are carefully created by hand with the best cold cuts, while our salad platters are stuffed with our own signature chicken salad, seafood salad, and tuna salad.”

The key to success with prepared foods is to make things as easy as possible once the consumer gets the product home, said Steve Ortiz, director of fresh for Roth’s Fresh Markets based in Salem, Ore.

“Re-heating instructions, delivered or picked up, with packaging that goes directly in the oven, and restaurant quality,” he said. “If you have all these items in place, consumers will see the value and will be willing to pay a little more.”

’Tis The Season

Consumers are delaying their holiday food purchases more and more, IDDBA’s Atkins said, so team members working in the deli department need to be ready for the busy times.

“Make sure you have plans for party trays and dinners, and that everybody knows the plan,” she said. “Clearly identify with POS where customers may find highly sought-after holiday needs and traditions. Remember, it is not one size fits all. Have products for all local traditions and holidays.”

It’s important for deli departments to be properly staffed to handle a higher-than-normal volume of customers. After all, holidays can be very fast paced, and demanding.

“It is common for stores to be open extended hours leading up to holidays and shorter hours on the day before and/or the day of,” Alfano of Doris Italian Market & Bakery said. “Customer service comes first. We don’t only want our customers to remember us by the way our food tastes, but how they were treated while shopping in our store.”

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.