SAN ANTONIO – After a year of struggling, instore deli and bakery departments are showing signs of turnaround. The latest COVID-19 impact report from 210 Analytics and the International Deli Dairy Bakery Association shows that instore bakery sales for April are 21% above April 2020, and deli sales are up 22.2%. Category sales also came in above pre-pandemic levels.

“The story of April 2021 is a continuation of what we saw in March,” said Jeremy Johnson, vice president of education for IDDBA. “Everything that had seen strong gains throughout 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 saw year-over-year sales turn negative. And the two areas that struggled amid the pandemic patterns, instore bakery and deli prepared, turned positive. That said, meal occasions continue to be more home-centric than normal and most departments are experiencing sales at levels far above the 2019 pre-pandemic averages. Tracking where demand lies versus the 2019 baseline is an important exercise for demand forecasting as few retailers and brands will be able to stay on pace with the 2020 results. Additionally, consumers are re-engaging with restaurants for everyday and holiday meal occasions, which is will likely cause a shift in the supply chain balance between food retail and foodservice.”  

The only deli category that fell behind April 2020 sales was cheese, which ended the month 2.2% behind. Deli-prepared, however, is skyrocketing compared to 2020, ending the month 46.7% above 2019 sales. Deli entertaining and deli meat also performed well, coming in 10.3% and 7.6%, respectively, above April 2020 sales.

Amid deli-prepared combo meals (up 143.9%), desserts (112.7%), sandwiches (up 80.7%) and entrees (up 73.4%) are driving the category’s resurgence. In dele entertaining, trays saw increased sales of 154.5% in April 2021.

Possibly even more significant, overall deli department sales experienced gains over pre-pandemic levels too, ending the month 10.4% above April 2019. All key categories outperformed 2019 sales: deli meat (up 16.4%), deli cheese (up 10.5%), deli entertaining (up 10.4%) and deli prepared (up 5.1%).  

“The deli department is the compilation of cheese, meat and prepared foods. From the very start of the pandemic, its performance was a story of two tales,” said Angela Bozo, education director with IDDBA. “Cheese and meat, whether packaged in the refrigerated area or deli, have had a tremendous year. In contrast, deli-prepared struggled once shelter-in-place mandates ensued. While prepared foods made a big comeback, sales never quite got back to pre-pandemic levels. A year later, this means deli prepared has an easier time in going up against year-ago levels than meat and cheese. This pulled up the results for the entire department, particularly Easter week.”  

The perimeter bakery outshined 2020 dollars by a landslide last month. Driving the category’s growth of 21%, was specialty desserts (up 52.6%), cakes (up 42.2%), brownies/squares/bars (up 39.6%) and donuts (up 34.6%).  

Most perimeter bakery categories also outperformed April 2019 sales, with the top categories against 2019 being croissants (up 31.9%), brownies/squares/bars (up 23.5%) and tortillas/flatbreads (up 17.3%). A few categories, however, still struggled to keep up with pre-pandemic numbers. Going up against April 2019, specialty desserts came in 23.2% behind, donuts fell by 10.4% and cookies fell by 3.6%.

“The April 2021 perimeter bakery results show the reversal of what’s up and what’s down due to pandemic peaks and drops in 2020,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics. “Desserts and sweet snacks took a big hit in April 2020 as a result of shelter-in-place that severely impacted everyday and holiday celebrations traditionally driving interest in sweet indulgences. Sales had recovered to near pre-pandemic levels by February 2021 from a dollars perspective, even as sizing trended down. Come March, desserts and sweet snacks sales in the perimeter bakery recovered enough to came out ahead of 2019 pre-pandemic levels, and the same was true for April.”