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The meat of the matter

The exploding charcuterie trend has moved from restaurants into homes.

Canadian tastes in deli meats may be changing.

Nielsen data indicates that while consumers still like their cold cuts, many Canadians are seeking out deli selections that are, perhaps, a cut above what they’ve eaten in the past.

The specialty sliced deli meats category in Canada grew by 7% in 2013, according to Nielsen data provided by Piller’s Fine Foods. Sales of dry-cured hams–such as prosciutto, serrano and speck–increased by 53% in the same period. Dry-cured salami sales rose 63%.

Charcuterie–which broadly includes prepared or preserved meats, ranging from sausage and ham to pâté–has been popular in restaurants for at least a decade, though the cured meats often came from Europe. But books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The 100-Mile Diet have fuelled the farm-to-table movement, and local, hand- crafted food, including meat, has become all the rage.

Charcut Roast House, in Calgary, has been serving items such as pig’s head mortadella and bison heart kielbasa since opening, in 2010.

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Since then, the restaurant’s sales have increased 25% year-over-year and show no signs of slowing down.

“We have 100 seats and do two full turns for lunch and sometimes three full turns for dinner,” says co-owner Connie Desouza.

Tim Ray is CEO of Carnivore Club, a Toronto- based meat-delivery service. Customers subscribe and are sent a selection of charcuterie meats.

“We shipped 4,000 boxes in December,” says Ray, a 100% increase since the club began, in fall 2013.

Ted Reader has been following the charcuterie trend with interest. He was a product development chef for Loblaw’s President’s Choice in the ’90s and now teaches product innovation at Niagara College in Ontario.

Reader says what’s behind the trend is a desire to share high-quality, luxury foods while entertaining at home.

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“Vegetables and dip are nice, but kind of boring. Charcuterie is a step up. You get this great way to begin a meal. It’s not the same old spinach dips and cranberry- and-brie puffs; it’s a little more artistic.”

Ray agrees: “People aren’t buying cured meats for protein in their diet, they’re buying for a social experience.”

Piller’s Fine Foods is responding to the trend.

“There is a real interest in fermented foods,” says Rita Weigel, director of marketing for Piller’s. “Things like cheese and wine, specialty meats, sauerkraut. In the case of meat, specifically, people want handcrafted, artisanal meats.”

Piller’s launched three such products in October: Charcuterie Westphalian ham and Charcuterie Alpen and Cervelat salamis (each with a suggested retail price around $7). They’re gaining momentum, says Weigel.

“We were very pleased with our sales of Piller’s Charcuterie deli meats over the holiday season,” she says, though Piller’s declined to share any sales figures.

Sales of meat products made at Choux Choux Charcuterie, in Victoria, have steadily increased since the boutique meat shop opened, nine years ago.

It originally produced a few pâtés, terrines and fresh sausages, but now makes 25 smoked items on-site, as well as several other air- cured products.

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“People here want to know where their meat comes from. They want local, local, local,” says Candice Meighen, the store’s general manager.

Demand is now outpacing supply–“We just can’t make enough”, says Meighen–and the company may expand into a second kitchen to bump up production to sell to larger grocers.

Larger-scale manufacturers have the capacity artisans don’t, so if they can find ways to emphasize their local, artisanal roots, it may attract the average shopper who wants a taste of the trend, but doesn’t have the time or money to search out and buy directly from local producers and sources.

That’s exactly where Piller’s seems to be headed. The company’s roots are in central Europe, says Weigel, so it would be looking to add traditional products from that heritage to its lineup in the future. There are no details yet, but dry- cured meats such as hams and salamis may fit the bill.

Some grocers are already adding more artisanal products to their deli offerings.

Longo’s in Leaside, an upscale Toronto neighbourhood, carries several charcuterie offerings from the Niagara area. In December, local artisans promoted their products for the holidays with their own in-store displays and charcuterie presentations.

This type of promotion is a great way to introduce customers to charcuterie, says Reader.

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“Sampling is always a good thing, but showing people how to present and serve the items are also key.” Placing charcuterie with cheeses or jams is another way to show customers how the products can be used for entertaining, adds Reader.

At Fiesta Farms, an independent grocer in Toronto, deli manager Maria Dacosta says the two most important marketing tools for her customers are free samples and clever packaging. She says Salumeria il Tagliere’s white parchment–style packaging is popular with customers because high-quality packaging speaks to the quality of what’s inside.

“If they like the packaging, they buy it.” Salumeria’s salamis are also popular, says Dacosta, because they’re made nearby, in Caledon, Ont.

Another local line of prosciutto, Pingue Prosciutto–made by Niagara Food Specialties, in Niagara Falls–is also popular among her customers. Pingue retails for $8.85 per 120 grams, a higher price point than many of Dacosta’s other ham offerings. But she says her customers “are willing to pay for the good stuff.”

Having more high-quality, locally made products available is one of the most exciting aspects of the charcuterie trend, says Reader.

“When I worked at Loblaw, Dave Nichol wanted the best prosciutto, so he went to Italy to find it.” But with so many Canadian manufacturers offering charcuterie today, grocers no longer need to look so far to get the quality their customers want.

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