Tight-lipped and private, the family-run company has muscled its
way to the top of the premium deli meat category through aggressive
sales and distribution tactics and a marketing budget that dwarfs
its nearest premium rival in the largely commoditized category.
To be sure, Boar's Head does not hold a lunchmeat monopoly. Far
from it: Cheaper private-label meats still control a majority of
volume, said Jim Prevor, founder and editor-in-chief of Deli
Business magazine, who also runs a blog called Perishable Pundit.
But Boar's Head is the premium brand leader, he said, probably
followed by arch-rival Dietz & Watson of Philadelphia, also a
family-run, private company. (Market share numbers are not publicly
Boar's Head is as secretive as it is successful. The company
rarely grants interviews and declined to comment to Ad Age or to
respond to emailed questions. But according to interviews with
industry insiders and competitors, the company's rise is the result
of a few key maneuvers. For one, Boar's Head invests mightily in
its brand, especially for a lunchmeat maker. Measured media
spending totaled $19.9 million in 2011, according to Kantar Media,
compared with $7 million for Dietz & Watson, which is available
Boar's Head is also known for deploying direct delivery to
stores while offering training to deli managers and constant
on-site assistance, industry insiders said. "Those gorgeous
hi-gloss, always-clean, red-and-black trucks serve as moving
billboards and reinforce the high-quality image," said Phil
Lempert, a food-industry analyst who runs supermarketguru.com. The
drivers include independent owner/operators as well as
company-owned route operators, according to the Boar's Head
website, which refers to the distributors as a "family of brand
Finally, Boar's Head negotiates deals with retailers that in
some cases make its meats the only premium brand in the store. They
"develop very strong relationships with top-level management at
retailers," said Jen Ehresmann, director of marketing at Jennie-O
Turkey Store, the turkey burger giant that also sells fresh deli
turkey lunchmeat. And "once they get approval, they own and manage
every nuance of [a deli] program. They will tell the retailer what
other brands to have in the case. In many cases [retailers] have
private label but [they] can't have competing brands."
Ms. Ehresmann made it clear she wasn't complaining. But Dietz
& Watson has griped loudly. In 2009, for instance, the company
blasted Boar's Head's approach after it says it was booted from
Harris Teeter grocery stores in North Carolina once the grocer
struck a deal with Boar's Head. "We want to win on quality and
taste, not by cutting off competitors. That disrespects consumers.
Yet that 's exactly what Boar's Head has been doing to grocery
store chains across the country," Louis Eni, Dietz & Watson
president-CEO, said in a statement at the time. Reached recently by
Ad Age , a Dietz & Watson spokesman indicated the marketer is
still concerned, saying "we still think it's better off for the
consumer if they have a choice."
Mr. Prevor said the deals are above-board because "there is no
legal exclusivity. The store can sell anything it wants. It just
cannot sell it in the Boar's Head branded deli." Theoretically, a
store could offer another branded deli elsewhere in the store, but
"most stores would consider this a waste of space and don't do it."
Mr. Prevor drew an analogy to other commodity categories with
brands, such as bananas, noting that a store might not carry Dole,
Chiquita and Del Monte all at once.
Chad S. Hummel, a lawyer for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who
has handled anti-trust cases, said Boar's Head is simply protecting
its brand, which is "perfectly legitimate." He added that "an issue
might arise if an exclusive arrangement foreclosed on another
supplier's ability to compete," but "while they may be blocked in a
particular store, that doesn't mean they can't sell in other
stores, or down the street , or in other channels."
But while legal, such deals are not good for consumers when it
comes to the deli-meat category, said Mark Lang, a food marketing
professor at St. Joseph's University and a former marketing
director for Publix, which carries Boar's Head. When big brands
take up all the space, the "first stuff that goes" are the
"regional flavors [and] regional brands that have been around for a
long time," said Mr. Lang, who consults for food retailers and
manufacturers, including Dietz & Watson.
Boar's Head, which is now headquartered in Sarasota, Fla., began
making its national march in the 1980s. The deals have worked well
for big retailers, Mr. Prevor said. Boar's Head carriers, for
instance, get an advertising allowance from the company and access
to a larger-than-average meat selection. "Retailers have reduced
their buying staff, so [they] are looking for an easy solution,"
Mr. Prevor said. "Once you decide you are going to be a Boar's Head
house, you really don't have to do much work. Everything is sort of
on automatic replenishment."
Boar's Head plows most of its ad budget into radio, where it
sent $18.9 million of its $19.9 million in measured media spending
last year, according to Kantar. The marketer's creative agency is
Altschiller Associates, New York, while Horizon Media handles media
and PR by Fleishman-Hillard. The Boar's Head Bold lineup, which
launched in May, is supported with radio and digital ads integrated
into Facebook games. The
ads allow users to get game currency if they answer poll
questions about the brand and sit through a video ad. (The campaign
was handled by Glo Gaming.) The new offerings include Jerk Turkey
Breast, Chipotle Chicken Breast and cheeses such as 3-Pepper Colby
The innovations come as deli-meat marketers seek to hold onto
consumers that are increasingly trying other deli options, like
prepared meals such as chicken and salads. In the 52 weeks ending
May 26, deli meat's contribution to the $25.04 billion U.S.
supermarket deli business fell 0.9 points to 22 .4% of total deli
sales, while prepared foods increased their share by 0.8 points to
53.2%, according to Nielsen Perishables Group.
At the same time, competition is coming from more convenient
pre-packaged, sliced-lunchmeat options. Citing proprietary
research, Jennie-O's Ms. Ehresmann said almost half of all deli
shoppers now purchase sandwich meats at least once every other week
from the pre-packaged section of the meat department.
For its part, Jennie-O is trying to spark more frequent deli
trips by plugging its fresh turkey, while taking on more expensive
competitors such as Boar's Head. For instance, the marketer plans
to soon publish the results of a taste test in which it says
Jennie-O deli turkey beat other leading brands. Sara Lee Deli,
meanwhile, is shifting more ad dollars into shopper marketing,
which is more "synergistic" with retailer needs, said Tim Smith,
director-marketing for Sara Lee Deli, owned by Hillshire Brands Co.
(Sara Lee was the third-best-selling deli bulk-meat brand in the 13
weeks ending May 26, behind private label and Boar's Head and ahead
of Dietz & Watson, the brand said, citing Nielsen data.)
Any way you slice it, looks like the deli competition is about
to heat up.