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Family fare

While research points to the decline of family meals, the deli and prepared foods departments have a huge opportunity to bring families back to the table as growth in these departments continues to increase.

Consultancy A.T. Kearney forecasts dollar sales of the $26 billion fresh prepared foods segment will grow at a 6% to 7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2017, up from its 5% to 6% CAGR in the 2007 to 2012 period. This will outpace the anticipated 2% to 3% CAGR of retail grocery food and beverage, and the 3% to 4% CAGR of foodservice between now and 2017, the consultancy predicts.

“Retailer investment in fresh prepared foods has created a very real threat to restaurants, which will require better execution to remain competitive, especially at dinner. Retailer offerings have evolved to the point that a growing number of consumers recognize not just convenience and value, but also quality and differentiated cuisine,” said A.T. Kearney in its white paper, “Fresh Prepared Foods:  A Growth Driver For Your Company?”  

Longings for diversity, convenience

Lauren Johnson, chief executive officer of Newport Avenue Market, a Bend, Ore.-based specialty grocery store, said increased demand for convenience and variety is driving discerning shoppers into her store every day. Store selections range from custom-made sandwiches and grab-and-go sandwiches and salads, pizzas, paninis and sushi, to such gourmet dinner entrées as salmon skewers, eggplant rolls, prime rib and coconut shrimp, as well as appetizers, side dishes and desserts.

“Our customers know they can come into our store every day and find an entire meal, whether they’re coming for our grab-and-go sushi, or our bakery set for macaroons and cake, or our service-deli side complete with hot entrées, cold entrées and the salad case,” Johnson said.  “They know we can serve a family meal seven days a week without hesitation.”

Similarly, quality and variety are deli and prepared foods product requisites for Lakeland, Fla.-based grocery giant Publix Super Markets. “We pride ourselves on providing our customers with meal solutions. We have everything from grab-and-go, to heat-and-serve, to individual meals and family meals including our famous Publix Subs,” said Maria Brous, director of media & community relations for Publix. “Our goal is to save our customers time and provide the convenience of great-tasting food to meet every need.”

To that end, Publix’s hot cases offer a variety of proteins, such as mojo pork, chicken, meatloaf and fish, as well as assorted starches and vegetables, which can be purchased as meals or by the pound. Publix’s lineup also includes the Publix Deli Family Combo Meal, which consists of a Publix Deli Rotisserie Chicken or Publix Deli Fried Chicken, a four-pack of Hawaiian rolls, and two varieties of cold salads or hot side items.

In some Publix deli departments, the stores also offer Chefs Selections, Brous explained. For this option, a variety of proteins and side dishes are available as a meal or for purchase by the pound. Publix’s Hispanic-influenced Publix Sabor delis, meanwhile, offer greater selections of traditional Hispanic hot bar items such as black beans and white rice, plantains, tostones and yucca, and proteins such as shredded beef, mojo pork and fish.

“The quality of our foods sets us apart as well as the variety we offer,” Brous said.

On-trend family foods

Heightened consumer health awareness and an emphasis on healthy eating have prompted delis to broaden their product offerings to meet today’s family meal demands.  Johnson pointed to quinoa salad, for example, as something that wouldn’t have made it into Newport Avenue’s product lineup 10 years ago, but today ranks as the store’s number two most popular salad.

”Our customers are much more focused and health conscious. That’s not to say that they aren’t buying a mayonnaise-based salad, but they are certainly more aware that they are buying a mayonnaise-based salad versus an olive oil-based salad,” Johnson explained, adding that gluten-free food offerings are also trending. “Consumers are becoming more educated and they are asking questions of our staff on the other side of the counter.”

As the fall season proceeds, Johnson also said the increased use of root vegetables is a trend to watch, as well as the continued use of popular offerings such as Brussels sprouts and kale. Whatever the meal option, she stressed that Newport’s overall focus would remain on comfort foods with true flavors and family appeal.

“Our customers love to feel like their grandma made their dinner for them, so we are going to provide that–those comfort meals with a bit of a twist,” she said. “Maybe we’re going to incorporate quinoa into it. Maybe we’re going to introduce another heirloom bean. But certainly items that are not sauced heavily and have more pure flavors would be trending. There’s comfort in knowing that what you see is what you get.”

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