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Buying a business: Delicatessens

Bite into the booming speciality foods market with a deli

What is it? Who is it suited to?
Before you buy How much does it cost?
How much can I earn? Tips for success

Britain may not have joined the Euro yet, but it seems that we are beginning to share at least one common interest with our European neighbours – a love of food.

Britain’s tastes are becoming increasingly cosmopolitan – witness the rising number of celebrity chefs who champion European ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan. And the trend seems set to continue.

This is good news for delicatessens. For while most local food shops have been feeling the strain from increasingly competitive supermarket prices, the ability of delicatessens to offer superior quality food to a growing number of connoisseurs has led to a relative boom in this sector.

According to Mark Sheehan, director of business transfer agents, Christie and Co, the market for delis is strong at the moment. “Successful retailing businesses tend to be niche operations and delis certainly fall into this category.”

Yet it is not just the commercial opportunities that draw people to the idea of owning a deli. Many people start a business as a lifestyle choice, and if you have a passion for food surely there can be no more enjoyable way to earn a living than surrounded by the finest delicacies from around the world.

So with delis combining profitability with the chance to work all day every day with delicious food, it is not surprising that owning one is a mouth-watering prospect for so many entrepreneurs.

What is it?

Delicatessens basically sell fine food, either as packaged groceries, fresh produce or pre-prepared dishes. The packaged food may include pasta, olive oils, wines and cakes for example. Most delis will also have a fresh produce counter stocking a range of cheeses and cooked meats (charcuterie), as well as dips, olives, and sauces. Often, they freshly bake bread every morning and many also offer ready-to-eat food prepared on the premises -pasta dishes and sandwiches, for example.

“We try to make sure that everything we stock you can’t get from the supermarket,” says Steve Turvill, owner of Limoncello delicatessen in Cambridge. “We have over 1000 product lines here and a horrendous list of 24 suppliers that we use regularly, just so we know we are getting the best of everything.”

As well as a retail outlet for fine foods of every description, some delicatessens also offer value-added services such as outside catering or gift items such as hampers – ideal ways to increase turnover while also showcasing the food. Other delicatessens attract custom by providing facilities for customers to eat in the premises, offering freshly ground coffee and home-made snacks for example.

But as a deli owner, your main activity will be food retail – the procurement, storage, displaying and selling of food items. It sounds simple enough but, like any business, to be a successful delicatessen owner there are several key skills that you will need to master and a certain personality that will stand you in good stead.

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