Pa. deli meat maker challenges NC grocer

August 12, 2009 6:46:49 PM PDT
Call this one the deli meats throwdown. A high-end deli meat and cheese maker that has been kicked out of a major North Carolina grocery store chain in favor of its main competitor, isn't being quiet about the slight.

Instead, Philadelphia-based Dietz & Watson has issued a challenge to the competitor, Boar's Head, in the form of a Thursday taste test.

"With a marketing machine like they have, they've been able to push their weight around and get some exclusive programs," D&W CEO Louis Eni said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "We thought it was time to take a stand." Eni plans to attend the Thursday showdown.

Boar's Head is the top-selling brand, with D&W coming in at No. 2, he said, adding that Boar's Head demands exclusivity when it goes into a grocery store. That means the store can't carry ham and Swiss from another top-of-the-line maker. D&W doesn't require such exclusivity, Eni said.

"When we compete, we're confident all the time," he said. "We know that more often than not, consumers will choose our brand." A spokeswoman for Boar's Head, based in Sarasota, Fla., did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The Matthews-based Harris Teeter grocery store chain - which has 189 stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Delaware, Maryland and the D.C. metro area - is rolling out Boar's Head products. So far, the products are available in 19 stores, and there's no timetable for the other stores, said Catherine Reuhl, a Harris Teeter spokeswoman.

Boar's Head "does not require exclusivity per store," she said in an e-mail response to questions, but Harris Teeter decided to carry Boar's Head as its only sliced-to-order produce in 10 to 15 marquee stores.

"It would be very difficult for Harris Teeter to carry two premium meat companies in the same deli," she said.

Meg Major, who writes for Progressive Grocer, said Boar's Head is known for requiring exclusivity.

"That's common knowledge," said Major, who wrote an article about the issue earlier this month. "That's the case. They've always expected that of any retailer. It's kind of like one or the other."

A company has to be convinced that it offers a quality product to run the sort of campaign that D&W is running, said Jon Bohlmann, an associate professor of marketing at North Carolina State University.

"It strikes me that Dietz & Watson is convinced of the quality of its product so they probably think there's nothing to lose by bringing up this issue and doing this taste," Bohlmann said.

And while the strategy may seem gutsy, it also could be a defensive measure, he said. "You don't want other grocers to make the same decision that Harris Teeter did," Bohlmann said. "You want to make sure you remind the other people carrying your product that your products really are good. If you prove ... that makes other stores carrying D&W feel better about carrying them."

At the taste test, which Eni will attend, D&W will pit its London broil roast beef and Buffalo chicken against Boar's Head's versions of the same. The taste test will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday in the interior courtyard at the Epicentre and then resume at 5 p.m.

In addition to the taste test, D&W has placed ads on 25 billboards in Charlotte market. It also has 14 people who are conducting samplings at 28 Charlotte- and Raleigh-area Harris Teeter stores, and is running radio ads.