Cheese’s Favorite Partner, by Carol M. Bareuther

Crackers — traditionally thin, crisp, savory, bite-sized flatbreads — have enjoyed staple status in the American diet for more than two centuries. The manufacturing of crackers, in fact, was one of the nation’s first food businesses. It all started in 1801 when Massachusetts baker Josiah Bent discovered that when he put his new bread invention into a hot oven, it made a “crackling” sound.  Hence, the “cracker” was born, according to the 2012-published Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America.

Fast forward, crackers today come in a variety of styles, sizes and seasonings. What’s more, crackers make up the largest, at three-fourths (74.8 percent), of deli snack sales according to the Madison, WI-headquartered International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s What’s in Store 2016.

Why sell crackers in the deli when the grocery aisle is full of name-brand favorites? Two reasons. First, shoppers are drawn into the deli because they are looking for something special, according to Elizabeth Schwartz, director of sales for John Wm. Macy’s CheeseSticks, Inc., the Elmwood Park, NJ-based manufacturer of twice-baked namesake-branded CheeseCrisps and CheeseSticks. “This includes shoppers who want something to pair with their favorite gourmet cheese on an ongoing basis or those who want something unique to serve at or bring to a party.” Secondly, crackers can boost the deli ring.
“It has only made sense to provide an accompaniment as more gourmet cheeses, dips and spreads emerged in the deli,” says Kim Holman, marketing director at TH Foods, Inc., the Loves Park, IL-headquartered manufacturer and marketer of Crunchmaster and Harvest Stone specialty cracker brands. “Crackers in the deli drive incremental sales and a greater dollar ring. When you provide ‘carrier crackers’ that can partner with cheese, dips and spreads, you invite the consumer to purchase a bundle of products instead of just one.

Taste Trends

Demand for natural, healthy ingredients and less-processed food has sky-rocketed, according to the U.S. Food Industry Update, released in April 2016, by Tully & Holland, Inc., a Wellesley, MA-based investment bank that works with food companies. “Consumers are looking for better-for-you crackers and want to know specifically why it is better. Key on-pack claims that are trending are: non-GMO project verified, organic, gluten-free, non-allergen and grain, protein and fiber claims, as well. Consumers also want new and interesting healthful ingredients like hemp, teff, matcha and chia just to name a few. That’s what makes our Multi-Seed Original and Multi-Grain Sea Salt, which are both gluten-free, best-sellers in the deli,” says Holman.

Ancient grains ranked as the 15th hottest food trend of 2016 according to the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” survey of nearly 1,600 professional chefs nationwide. These grains, including amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and teff, are used in the manufacture of recently introduced Free for All Kitchen crackers, produced by Partners, A Tasteful Choice Company, in Kent, WA.

“Free for All Kitchen crackers are made from a blend of five ancient grains and cassava flour,” says Cara Figgins, vice president. “They are lightly salted and are made without rice, corn or soy, which are common ingredients in other gluten-free crackers. Free for All Kitchen crackers are upscale gourmet, taste great, pair exceptionally well with cheeses, dips and spreads and can be served to all guests or family members without concern for having to buy multiple types of cracker products.” Food preparations that feature bold, spicy and ethnic flavors are something we can expect to see more of, according to Salty Snacks in the U.S., 4th Edition, released by Rockville, MD-headquartered market research firm, Packaged Facts, on February 26, 2016.

“As long as we can deliver these types of flavors as part of our product offering, while maintaining our goal of trying to provide a ‘healthier’ snack alternative, we believe consumers will love our new snack Bites,” says Paul Pigott, owner of La Panzanella Artisanal Foods Co., in Tukwila, WA. “We used our best-selling Croccantini cracker as the base and seasoned them with the flavors that hit on those trends; Italian Herb, Sundried Tomato with Basil, and Spicy Olive.”

Four Deli Selling Ideas
1. Front, Center and Demo. “If you only have one or two packages of crackers out, they are going to get lost on the shelf and shoppers won’t see them. A nice display is key,” says James Anderko, national sales manager for Venus Wafers, the Hingham, MA-based manufacturer of Mariner-brand Stoned Wheat crackers. “Place cracker displays adjacent to cheese to instantly create that association in shoppers’ minds. Or use them actively or passively to demo cheese and other deli products. Many customers won’t buy a cracker that retails for $3.99 to $4.99 unless they know they like it.”
2. One-Stop Shop. “Crackers positioned with cheeses and meats have an advantage over those in the grocery aisle, because they are set-up to be the deli’s one-stop snacking/entertaining solution. As long as they are positioned so that consumers can make an easy decision, they will buy the crackers in the deli rather than heading over to another part of the store,” says Partners’ Figgins. One-stop locations help shoppers to see everything they need to create upscale mini-meal solutions, appetizers and/or a party platter at home. “This opportunity to visualize leads shoppers to identify things that may not have been on their list or top of mind to begin with,” explains Steve Lorenz, director of marketing for La Panzanella. “Also, knowledgeable deli staff can educate the customer about what cheeses work best with particular crackers and therefore encourage a broader mix of products and flavors.”
3. Great Gatherings. “Cracker sales peak around holidays that coincide with gatherings with friends and family. Examples include Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Beyond these, shoppers seek out crackers anytime they want to enjoy cheeses and charcuterie such as at summer concerts and fall tailgating,” says Lorenz.  Delis can position crackers for sale for these occasions by enabling customers to order online or on their phone and pick up a completed deli platter that includes the cracker component. “Beyond this, offering ways for customers to order-shop-pick up their platter in-store is another great opportunity to promote the various cheeses, meats and crackers the deli carries,” says Lorenz.
4. In- and Out-of-the-Box Promotions. “Tie-ins are a great way to promote crackers. For example, advertise $1 off on a box of crackers when customers buy a particular hummus, spread or perhaps a sliced Brie. Or, put crackers on sale at a 20 to 40 percent discount off the regular price.” To promote its crackers in a more novel fashion, Venus Wafers has packaged the newly introduced bite-sized version of its Nejaime’s Lavasch Crisp Flatbreads in 1.5-ounce giveaway bags to be used as samples.
“Some of our retail accounts host community events like 5K runs. Our crackers are great to hand out at these events because they are 100 percent wholegrain, certified organic and non-GMO,” says Anderko. “In addition, we gave one deli manager 300 bags for a store grand opening. He put the crackers and other deli product samples into gift bags. Then, he advertised that the first 300 customers that visited the deli the day of the store’s grand opening would get one of these bags. It was a great way for him to ultimately sell more crackers and other deli products too.” DB


Original Article found in Deli Business Magazine, June/July 2016