The charcuterie trend—particularly, the artfully arranged boards featuring a mixed variety of high-quality snackable meats and cheeses—has been growing since 2017, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed that growth into the stratosphere, as working from home turned many consumers into grazers. Peaking at an 80% volume increase in the second quarter of 2020, pre-packed charcuterie is now up 40% over 2019 in the United States, according to IRI POS Syndicated Data.
“Several trends in food culture are at play, including the popularity of small plates, in-house preparation, local sourcing and butchers letting no part of the animal go to waste,” says Shelley Balanko, senior vice-president, The Hartman Group. “Charcuterie is a great vehicle for flavour discovery and social eating.”
While charcuterie has broad appeal across all age groups, millennials are fully embracing it. “They’re the most focused on global food experiences, health and wellness trends, and trends in sustainable food sourcing,” says Balanko. To promote sales, she suggests grocers share the stories behind products, especially those from authentic food traditions.
Toronto grocer Pusateri’s has seen this, too. “The demand has increased tremendously due to guests’ awareness around the story and quality of products they are consuming,” says Jennifer De Guzman, category manager. “Charcuterie showcases a variety of authentic flavours and has become a convenient solution for snacking, meals and entertaining.”
Sales of Pusateri’s cured meats—like its house-branded Prosciutto Riserva, dry aged for 18 months—are doing well, alongside bite-size chorizo and a global array of cheese, including Oveja aux Truffes Cheese with black truffles from Spain, Switzerland’s Kaltbach Le Gruyere and Ilchester Applewood Smoked Cheddar from the United Kingdom. The retailer also offers finishing touches for charcuterie boards like ice wine jellies, fig spreads, aged balsamic vinegar, artisanal honey, nuts, flatbreads and dried fruit. Pusateri’s also sells the boards themselves, to offer consumers one-stop charcuterie shopping.
Producers behind the ingredients are riding the charcuterie wave, too. “There are just so many exciting things happening in this space,” says Michelle Harper, vice-president, brand development & innovation at B.C.-based Freybe Gourmet Foods, whose wide array of internationally-inspired meats (from salami and chorizo to cervelat and jagdwurst) has benefited from the trend. “Our charcuterie growth has been incredible. Exploring and travelling through food—a major challenge over the last 18 months—continues to drive consumers to look for fresh, intriguing options.”
Harper recommends grocers invest in new, unique items as consumers look to shake up their boards and get adventurous. “Social media continues to be a driver for inspiration,” says Harper. “We’ve found users who engage with platforms like Pinterest have a very high purchase intent.”
Boursin cheese is a charcuterie board mainstay and remains one of the top platter cheeses on the Canadian market, according to Marie-Eve Robert, vice-president marketing, Bel Cheese Canada. Success has sparked the introduction of new flavours, like Apple & Maple (2019) and Fig & Balsamic (2020), as well as a dairy-free Garlic & Herbs, larger formats and canape-sized minis. The company works closely with social media influencers to provide creative ideas for promotion.
Though meat and cheese-focused charcuterie isn’t going anywhere, it’s evolving to include plant-based options—and it’s not just vegans buying them, says Mitchell Scott, co-founder and CEO of B.C.-based The Very Good Butchers. Flexitarians are adding non-meat options to their charcuterie boards, he notes, as the quality and variety of plant-based items has come a long way in the last five years.
The charcuterie trend has been great for sales of the company’s minimally processed vegan products. “It has definitely impacted our business positively,” Scott says. “We offer a charcuterie box that’s doing very well.” It features meatless items like a pepperoni made with organic adzuki beans, Smokin’ Bangers, Ribz and bacon. The Very Good Butchers is also launching a gluten-free Butcher’s Select line. “Charcuterie is being redefined,” explains Scott. “Obviously what we’re doing is plant-based meat and cheese, but in our eyes it is still meat and cheese, just made from different ingredients.”
Plant-based dips also find a home on today’s charcuterie boards. Spread’Em Kitchen’s digital marketer Maggie Turner believes female millennials are propelling the trend forward. The company’s beet-based dip is a favourite, thanks to its bright fuchsia hue. “Innovation doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” she says.
These days, “charcuterie” is often extended to mean anything presented on a board, themed around everything from breakfast items to desserts. Instagram alone has 1.3 million tagged charcuterie posts, with users flaunting artful boards and perfectly executed salami roses. ‘Board’-dom is not an option.
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer's November 2021 issue.