Nielsen Data Reveals Opportunity for Manufacturers of Healthy, Affordable Lunch Meats

The popularity of lunch meat has varied over the past few decades, corresponding to rises and falls in the number of people who take their lunch to work. Within the lunch meat category, deli meats have been taking market share from packaged meats as consumers seek higher-quality, more customizable products.

Fortunately for lunch meat manufacturers, new Nielsen data shows opportunities in both the deli and packaged meat categories — the trick lies in understanding what customers want.

Health and wellness claims

In the lunch meat category, as in most other fresh food categories today, consumers are interested in products they perceive as healthy, such as antibiotic-free, low-sodium, organic, and natural. Nielsen notes that these products still make up only a small segment of the overall category, but that this segment is growing fast.

Deli meat

For the 52 weeks ending 1/27/18, antibiotic-free sales of deli meat grew 45% in volume and 53% in dollars. Meanwhile, sales of natural deli meats increased slightly, while organic and low-sodium deli meats saw slight declines.

Packaged lunch meat

In packaged lunch meats, all four categories saw growth:

  • Antibiotic-free (+29% volume, +20% dollars)
  • Low-sodium (+12% volume, +18% dollars)
  • Organic (+13% volume, +2% dollars)
  • Natural (+6% volume, +3% dollars)


Also mirroring what’s happening in other segments of the food industry, consumers want lunch meats that are convenient. Currently 11% of total deli bulk meat sales are for grab ‘n go products. Most of these grab ‘n go dollars are going to to the top five brands, but private label products are seeing significant year-over-year growth.

Main drivers of purchasing behavior

Nielsen notes that both deli and packaged lunch meat shoppers make their decisions based on meat type, flavor, price, and size. However, deli meat consumers prioritize customizability and flavor, while packaged meat consumers focus more heavily on price.

The opportunity for manufacturers

Healthy, affordable food — in the end, this is what consumers want. For lunch meat manufacturers in particular, there’s an opportunity to provide more natural, antibiotic-free products in both the deli case and the packaged meats aisle. Packaged meat manufacturers should also look for ways to decrease sodium and offer more organic products while keeping prices in check.

To learn about some of the new natural preservatives available for deli products, check out this recent article in Meat+Poultry: Natural Preservatives Trending for Deli.

Unitherm supplies several types of equipment that can help you increase the quality of your lunch meat products while also improving yields to keep costs down. Read about our Infrared Pasteurizers, our process for smoking hams and turkeys, and our patented crust freezing technology for slicing deli logs.

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