Stuck-at-Home Americans Crave Italian Deli Meats

Go ahead and add prosciutto to the list of items flying out the door at markets during Covid.

Demand is surging for charcuterie — European-styled cured meats such as salami and pancetta — with the pandemic fueling consumers’ desires for simple protein snacks to enjoy outside restaurants. It’s part of an accelerating trend seen by Dasha Shor, global food analyst at market researcherMintel Group Ltd.

“Meat products for at-home snacking and meat-based mini meals are the ‘new normal’ in the Covid-19 reality,” Shor said, with charcuterie board-inspired products gaining relevance “due to the popularity of protein and people seeking less guilt and more excitement in the safety of their homes.”

The surge in demand for cured meat has been a bright spot for the $12.8-billion lunch-meat market in the U.S., inducing suppliers to beef up their cured-meat lineups and pushing one producer to expand operations. Meat snacks had already been on the rise in recent years as people look for convenient high-protein foods to support active lifestyles and diets, but the pandemic has increased the appetite for the product.

Packaged lunch meat accounted for almost $7 billion of U.S. sales in the past year, compared with $5.8 billion for bulk lunch meat, according toNielsen. Packaged and bulk salami combined accounted for 8.3% of overall sales while Italian meats represented a 1.9% slice of the total market.

There’s such a demand for meats like salami and prosciutto that Plumrose USA announced plans in August to build a$200-million plant to produce Italian meats and charcuterie. The company, a subsidiary of beef-and-pork producerJBS USA, estimate that retail sales of Italian-style meats will increase 10% a year and volumes will rise 6% annually, with the highest growth from pepperoni and prosciutto.

Retail growth of the meats accelerated as consumer behavior shifted during the pandemic, Plumrose USA President Tom Lopez said in an email. Sales of Italian meats have surged 21% and sales volumes are up 13% from pre-Covid levels, he said.

Lopez sees increasing demand from Millennials and Generation X cohorts, not only due to social media trends of sharing food, but also because consumers of that age range are interested in authentic foods and craft products.

Charcuterie Appeal

True Story Foods has also seen surging interest for charcuterie, both in its business of supplying pork to deli-meat makers and selling products under its own brand. The California-based company added two sliced salami products, sopressata and Genoa, this year. Sales of those are up 40% from what they expected, and the company’s charcuterie items are selling upwards of 50% more than sliced turkey or ham products, co-founder Colin Harter said.

Citarella, with eight deli locations around New York and Connecticut, has seen a lift of about 85% in sales on cured meat from a year earlier, as well as cheeses and olives, owner Joe Gurrera said in an email. The company’s markets have seen sales on those items more than double during the last month.

Italian marketplace Eataly has seen an 18% increase in quantity purchases in its cured meat and cheese department since March in New York and Los Angeles.

The pandemic has even given those with entrepreneurial flare a chance to get in on the trend. After losing her executive assistant job due to the outbreak, Miami’s Erika Alonso became inspired after seeing somebody’s Instagram images of charcuterie boards.

“This seemed like it wasn’t too complicated and at the same time I see a clientele for it,” the 44-year-old said. “I couldn’t believe that I had never thought about it before.”

Alonso began her Bleu Tableau business in July.

“A lot of people who are not going out want to enjoy a little bit of wine, a little bit of some charcuterie meats and cheeses,” she said. “It’s nice to enjoy, and you don’t have to necessarily go out to a restaurant.”

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