Despite the direction from many health experts steering us away from processed meat, grocery stores still offer a wide assortment of choices. High-end Charcuterie such as prosciutto, pâté, and other European cured meats may be the latest darling of deli meats, but our longstanding favorites of roast beef, turkey, and ham continue to own the podium in the deli counter. Sandwiches are still the number one food option for lunches at home…and are often filled with the same familiar cold cuts we grew up with.
Driven by consumers’ desire for convenience, the demand for processed and ready to eat meat products is expected to grow in the future. A deli meat sandwich is a fast, simple, and delicious option for lunch or dinner; it’s practically mess-free, and can work as a nutritious, filling snack. Contract Testing recently undertook two central location product tests to explore this category – specifically the sliced and packaged varieties of turkey and black forest ham. This case summarizes the key insights of these two product tests in the deli meat category.
Methods & Materials
In both central location tests, respondents included 50 females between the ages of 25 and 54 from the Greater Toronto Area who are the primary grocery shopper in the household and who were regular consumers of deli meats.
In each test, participants tasted and evaluated four brands of packaged deli meat sourced from a local grocery store. Each participant received a slice of each sample, presented on a plastic plate labeled with a 3 digit code, served one at a time in varied order. These products will be referred to as A, B, C, and D for purposes of this case study. Participants were asked a series of detailed hedonic and ‘just about right’ questions regarding the appearance, flavour, and textural profiles of the meat.
Four brands of Deli Meat achieved the Contract Testing norm for Overall Liking in this category of 7.0 (out of 9), with one turkey slice reaching an impressive height of 7.7 (Fig. 1).
Figure 1 – Overall Liking (Mean)
Figure 2 – Top Box Purchase Intent - Percent who will definitely buy
The strong appeal of the brands was also illustrated with high top box purchase intent, which far exceeded the 25% norm for this category for Brand A in both deli meat tests (Fig. 2).
The relationship between the hedonic sensory attributes and Overall Liking followed a consistent pattern in both deli meat tests, with Overall Flavour having the strongest correlations followed by the attributes of Texture, Naturalness of Taste, and Appearance. In terms of the flavour profiles, the primary taste notes which are identifiable by consumers in these deli meat categories are Strength of Flavour, Saltiness, and Smokiness. In each case, the winning brands (Brand A & B Ham, and Brand A Turkey) boasted the top Just About Right scores on these flavour attributes (Tables 1 & 2).
Table 1 – Flavour JAR attributes for Sliced Ham
Table 2 – Flavour JAR attributes for Sliced Turkey
There were also varied results in terms of the look and feel of the deli meats. The winning ham and turkey brands had just the right thickness and firmness – while the underperforming slices tended to be very thin and much too soft, wet, and floppy. And the visual cues also played a role. For example, a high-quality slice of turkey was much more likely to be described as Natural Looking and Appetizing (Table 3).
Table 3 – Product Descriptors
Issues of the Underperformers
There were two very underachieving brands of deli meat which fell significantly short of the key measure norms – Brand C ham, and Brand D turkey. Interestingly, the problems of the underperforming deli meat slices in each test were very similar for both the Ham and Turkey varieties. Both underperforming deli meats were too thin, too salty, not smoky enough, and too soft. The unappealing ham was too dark in colour, while the turkey was too light (Table 4).
Table 4 – JAR scores for Underperforming Ham and Turkey
The Importance of Naturalness
Another differentiating attribute in both deli meat tests was the Naturalness of Taste. The top performing ham and turkey slices were significantly more likely to be rated as more natural tasting than the underperforming brands (Tables 5 & 6).
Table 5 – Natural Tasting attribute for Ham
Table 6 – Natural Tasting attribute for Turkey
Another testament to this is evidenced by the stated importance of features that drive purchase decisions in this category. Among our participants, the most important stated claims or benefits in packaged deli meat were “No Preservatives” and “Natural Ingredients”. Interestingly, the “Expiry Date” was a closer runner-up in importance. It may seem counterintuitive that consumers actually look for packaged foods that last the longest, but also want them to be free of any ingredients that actually help to achieve this goal. The message may be conflicting, but at least it’s clear to food marketers and manufacturers – consumers want to be told what they’re eating is good for them, but also want all the convenience and good value that is sometimes at odds with the first objective. Packaged, processed food is both our friend and our foe.
The packaged Black Forest Ham and Turkey brands in our test were all reasonably similar in meat protein, ingredients, and nutritional labelling. Some called out claims of Gluten and Lactose Free, while others focussed on being a Good Source of Protein or Trans Fat Free. Consumers respond to these reassurances and positive messaging, but they are also looking to satisfy their needs for convenience, value, and over everything else, tastes they enjoy and are familiar with. Our test revealed some brands that achieved high standards of product performance, and some that did not. Standing apart in the crowded space of the packaged deli section means providing the best possible sensory experience, one which consumers will return to.
Contract Testing Inc. is an industry leader in sensory evaluation and consumer product testing. We are the only sensory evaluation and consumer product research company with corporately managed test sites in both Canada and the United States.
With 30 years of experience, we are innovators in testing with consumers across all major food, beverage and household and personal care categories.