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Home entertaining boom gives party trays a boost

By Kathleen Furore

Consumers like to entertain at home—and they want to play host in ways that offer guests top-notch noshes without spending tons of time on the food prep process.

Those trends are converging to make party trays a popular option in a variety of social settings—and savvy meat and cheese makers are making sure the entertaining crowd has plenty of platters to choose from.


“We have seen demand for entertainment trays, which we call Antipasto, growing through last year,” reports Oliviero Colmignoli, founder and president of Olli Salumeria in Oceanside, California, when asked if he’s seen an uptick in interest from retailers who want pre-made party trays to carry in their delis. “We answered this growing demand in October [2018], when we came out to market with four different versions [of Antipasto].”


Olli Salumeria Antipasto selection


Seventy-seven percent. That’s a pretty impressive number—and it’s the number of adults who have hosted a party in their home in the last three years, according to US Party Planning and Home Entertaining, a June 2018 market report from Mintel.


“Informal gatherings are far more prevalent than formal parties, with 44 percent participation compared to 17 percent,” the report notes. “Lifestyle trends, technology and social media influences, demographic factors, and motivations to host parties support the prevalence of informal gatherings.”


Not only are consumers entertaining frequently—they’re also looking for convenient, fresh food offerings whenever they shop.


Convenience, in fact, is key for US consumers, according to the 4th edition of The Why? Behind The Dine, a recent report from CPG sales and marketing agency Acosta in partnership with Technomic, Inc.

And according to Nielsen, freshness is favored by today’s shoppers.


“Fresh foods are driving 49 percent of dollar growth across fast-moving consumer goods categories at retail,” a 2018 Total Food Report from Nielsen says. “In all, fresh and perishable foods account for $177 billion in sales.”


Pre-packaged party trays offer that freshness and convenience—which is good for consumers and retailers alike, Comignoli notes.


“For the consumer, we provide a choice of selected and researched finger food in a mix of flavors, which provide a great entertainment option all in one item and at a very convenient price,” he says. “As for the retailer who often creates their own entertainment platters in store, we help them save in labor and complexity at store level.”

Ingredients from Olli Salumeria Antipasto party tray

Industry Stats = A Positive for Party Trays

“In the last three years, a substantial 77 percent of adults have hosted a party in their home. Informal gatherings are far more prevalent than formal parties, with 44 percent participation compared to 17 percent.”

—Mintel: US Party Planning and Home Entertaining market report, June 2018


Popular Combos, In-Demand Time Frames

What combinations of meat and cheeses are consumers buying? And when are they buying them the most?


Salami and Parmesan, in various presentations, are among the favorites from Olli, Comignoli reports.


“We currently offer five versions [of the Antipasto trays]—two of these are only salami of various diameters, and the other three are a mix of salami, olives and cheese,” he says. The most popular option, he says, includes cubed Parmesan cheese, Genoa and Soppressata salami and Frescatrano olives.


The salami-only tray is popular with customers who want to choose their cheeses independently, but like the convenience of having the ready-to-serve, pre-sliced meats, Comignoli adds.

Further proof of party trays' popularity are the selections featured at supermarkets and big box retailers alike. Examples include Sam’s Club’s top-rated 22-oz. Formaggio Artisan Wrap Variety Tray, which features award-winning mozzarella rolled in artisan pepperoni, prosciutto and soppressata and Hormel’s Gathering Trays featured in stores including Target, Walmart, Jewel and Meijer. The Gathering trays–packed with pre-sliced meats and cheeses plus crackers—are available with hard salami and pepperoni or honey ham and turkey—come in 14-oz., 28-oz. and “supreme” 39.7-oz. sizes.



And what about the most popular seasons for pre-made party tray sales?


For Olli, the verdict is still out—especially since the company just launched the Antipasto—which come in 12-oz. packages—during the 4th quarter of 2018. But Comignoli is betting on good sales from season to season.


“This kind of item is a natural for the entertainment season from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” he says. “I do believe though that people, in reality, entertain guests at home year-round and so while volumes might be larger in the 4th quarter, we will see strong year-round demand with peaks for special events like Super Bowl and such.”


He’s confident enough of future success that Olli plans to debut a 24-oz. version of the Antipasto tray in COSTCO for Easter 2019.

The Processing Challenge 


While the benefits premade party trays deliver are many, they don’t come without challenges for the processors charged with making them. Freshness, food safety and shelf life are all things that must be considered.


“Food safety is, of course, at the forefront of everything we do and as such a lot of thought went into that—everything from allergen management to the shelf life of every single component,” Comignoli stresses. As for shelf life? “We currently guarantee to the retailer 60 days,” he adds.


Slicers help processors meet those challenges, and Weber equipment plays a key role in creating Olli’s party trays, Comignoli notes.


“We slice all our salami on a Textor, and it plays a key role on how we go present our salami,” he says. “We are in the process of adding a new line with two Textors and auto-loading of the salami in the tray. That will both streamline the operation as well as add consistency in quality.”


Inspiration: Charcuterie

Retailers and restaurants alike are ramping up charcuterie offerings as consumers flock to creative culinary presentations featuring a variety of dried cured meats and artisan cheeses. For unique ideas on assembling eye-catching party trays that will tempt deli shoppers, consider turning to charcuterie pictures on sites like Pinterest or exploring menus from restaurants that offer meat-and-cheese pairings on their menu.  

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