Chalk it up to the protein craze or just the consumer need for more convenient foods, but the lunchmeat category has swelled in the last year with sales exceeding $9 billion.

However, it’s not just any lunchmeat that is resonating with shoppers; it’s those that offer quality and healthy options. For instance, freshly sliced bulk lunchmeat from the deli department has outperformed its packaged/processed counterparts. Also, entertaining varieties, such as specialty sausages and pepperoni, have grown in the marketplace, possibly influenced by the charcuterie trend.

“The future is all about connecting with the consumer and staying ahead of their needs,” says Sarah Schmansky, director of Nielsen Fresh. “What’s on the label matters – 68 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for foods and drinks that do not contain undesirable ingredients. And lunchmeat companies are taking that seriously.”

The successful lunchmeat processors are taking note of these trends and are employing some of the following strategies:

  • “Natural” products with packaging that says “nothing added” and/or containing “no antibiotics ever.”
  • Creating options that are easy to snack on-the-go instead of those just for sandwiches.
  • Including pre-sliced medallions for easy snacking/charcuterie options.
  • Going beyond just lunchmeat to create meal solutions that pair together their premium meat and cheese varieties.

Here’s the lunchmeat category snapshot from Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts of the latest 52 weeks ending 4/29/2017:

Convenient, on-the-go snack options within deli specialty meat (i.e. meat/cheese snack sticks) are growing:

  • Bold, ethnic flavors continue to provide spice to expanding flavor palates
  • Cajun, teriyaki, buffalo, chorizo, peppered, picante are some top growing flavors in lunch meat today
  • Chorizo is the fastest growing specialty meat - up 16% in both dollars and volume

Health claims in lunch meat help to keep healthy options available for kids’ lunches: 

  • Antibiotic / hormone free - up 15% in volume
  • No artificial preservatives - up 7% in volume
  • All natural - up 2.5% in volume

Entertaining varieties, such as sausage, pepperoni, Italian meats are growing:

  • Pepperoni up 4% in dollars and volume
  • Salami up 2% in dollars and volume
  • Sausage up 1% in dollars and flat in volume