Grocers with foodservice operations – and those who want to track away-from-home dining trends – can heed the results of a new operator survey from the National Restaurant Association showing that macroeconomic conditions are taking a toll on that industry. According to the association's new research, nearly half – 46% – of restaurant operators say that business conditions are worse now than they were three months ago.
Higher food, labor and operating costs are contributing to a slowdown and concern in the foodservice sector, the survey showed. An overwhelming majority of 88% respondents said their total food and beverages costs are higher than in 2019 and 85% report that their business is less profitable than it was before the pandemic.
To stem some of the cost challenges, almost all (91%) of foodservice operators have increased their menu prices. More than two-thirds have changed the food and beverage items that are offered on their menu.
Labor shortages, while perhaps not as acute as last year, are still a stubborn problem. The survey found that 65% of operators don’t have enough employees to support demand and 84% said they will likely hire more workers over the next six months.
"Consumers are watching prices rise faster in grocery stores than they are in restaurants and see an increased value in spending their food dollars in restaurants. However, the moderate menu price increases aren't balancing the surging input costs and this is forcing operators to cut hours, change their menus, postpone expansions, and reduce third-party delivery," remarked Michelle Korsmo, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association.
Small-Footprint System Makes In-Store Pickup Faster, Easier
Bell and Howell is adding to its series of automated pickup solutions with a new freestanding indoor system that enables customers to grab their orders within seconds. The new QuickCollect Go! Cube is built on the same robotic “store in a box” technology used in Bell and Howell’s pickup pod, with a modular design for higher density storage capability.
The small-footprint cube helps shoppers avoid having to go to a line or service desk to pick up their orders and also helps retailers optimize time and labor. It can support up to four shoppers at a time and accommodates a variety of products, including refrigerated, frozen and ambient goods that require temperature control.
“Bell and Howell QuickCollect Go! products put the consumer first and in control over their time. Consumers no longer wait for goods at home or in a parking lot – instead their items are waiting for them. This new iteration of our revolutionary technology gives businesses more ways to offer customers the convenience they desire while reducing complexity and cost,” said James Hermanowski, general manager and VP of Bell and Howell’s BH QuickCollect Solutions business.
Advance remote monitoring and 24/7 technical support and service are available for the BH QuickCollect Solutions.
Michigan-based Meijer is rolling out two new lines of restaurant-style, single-serve meals dubbed Crafted Market by Meijer and Crafted Market Signature by Meijer. The heat-and-eat meals come in 12 varieties and are now available in the grocer’s deli grab-and-go section.
The Crafted Market line offers classic, family favorites including blackened chicken mac & cheese, teriyaki chicken and meatloaf and mash. The signature line offers more elevated meal options assembled in-store like chicken enchiladas, pesto grilled chicken with lemon thyme orzo and chicken asada.
"We know that sometimes doing your grocery shopping can work up an appetite, so we're pleased to be enhancing our heat-and-eat selection with this line full of fun flavors and classic favorites that customers can grab as they finish up their trip and enjoy soon after from the comfort of their homes," said Salwan Yaqo, Meijer deli buyer.
Meijer’s new meals can be heated in five minutes or less, and the grocer anticipates that 40% of the meals will be consumed the same day they're purchased.
"We have a long history of centering convenience and quality in our deli experience for our customers, so expanding our ready-to-heat options just makes sense," said Marlys Roberts, Meijer merchandising director of deli and bakery.
Privately owned Meijer operates more than 260 supercenters and grocery stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company is No. 20 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food retailers in North America.
Consumer engagement app Fetch Rewards has surpassed 5 million daily active users, according to metrics from San Francisco-based Data.ai. Having added more than 1 million to that daily active user number in the past month alone, the company is seeing widespread interest in its rewards platform.
“We’re reinventing the way people engage with brands by improving the efficiency of the relationship, and by making it fun,” noted Wes Schroll, CEO and founder of Madison, Wis.-based Fetch. “That’s why we’re seeing these numbers climb. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with brands that will offer consumers the best experience and leverage our vast amount of users to return the strongest impact for those brand partners.”
With more than 17 million people using the app monthly, Fetch’s daily user count reached 5 million for the first time in July. Demand for the app has continued to rise as consumers seek new ways to save money on grocery staples amid record inflation.
“One thing that makes 5 million so exciting to us is that it’s about a third of our monthly active users,” added Schroll. “We’ve seen this ratio increase, and we’re now on a trend line towards social media apps, rather than utility-savings apps.”
According to the company, its app outperforms such leading apps as Target, DoorDash and Instacart, and, with more than $133 billion in annualized retail sales, the Fetch platform is equivalent to the nation’s fifth-largest and fastest-growing retailer, trailing only e-commerce and big-box giants like Amazon and Walmart. The company has established partnerships with Albertsons and General Mills, among others.
Fetch’s data provides the basis for a new generation of advertising tools that drive real, measurable purchasing decisions. It has more than 500 global brands on its roster. For partners, Fetch Rewards helps accelerate growth and provide a greater understanding of customer behavior to allow for better consumer relationships and stronger brand loyalty. On the consumer side, its frictionless experience creates a fun, social and rewarding experience.
Instacart and Quicklly, a one-stop marketplace for Indian/South Asian groceries, tiffins, meal kits and fully prepared restaurant dishes, have expanded their partnership to provide delivery of Quicklly’s Indian pantry staples, spices and sauces in as fast as an hour in seven U.S. cities: New York; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Fremont, Calif.; Sunnyvale, Calif.; Naperville, Ill.; and Edison, N.J.
The Instacart app also offers nationwide delivery of Quicklly’s meal kits in three to four days. Shipped directly to consumers’ doors, the kits enable users to prepare an array of authentic vegetarian and nonvegetarian Indian meals and sauces. The new Quicklly grocery storefront enables customers in the seven cities mentioned above to have items delivered the same day that they’re ordered.
“We’re thrilled to grow this partnership with Instacart and bring authentic and delicious Indian and South Asian food to Americans of all backgrounds, identities and locations,” noted Keval Raj and Hanish Pahwa, co-founders of Chicago-based Quicklly. “With Quicklly, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of customers engage with Indian and South Asian cuisine in new and exciting ways. We’re excited to continue to connect consumers with tasty staples and a diverse array of groceries, meal kits and more.”
“We’re proud to expand our partnership with Quicklly to provide access to same-day delivery of its assortment of authentic Indian groceries, food, fresh produce and customers in seven cities,” said Elise Metzger, director of retail accounts at San Francisco-based Instacart. “At Instacart, we’re dedicated to helping retailers compete and better serve their customers.”
Quicklly plans to expand same-day delivery to six additional cities – Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Boston and Los Angeles – in the next few months. So far, the company has teamed with nearly 300 independent local businesses across greater Chicago, New York, New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide.
Stubborn inflation slowed improvements in consumer spending in July. According to the advance monthly trend report from the U.S. Census Bureau, overall sales were virtually flat from June to July, versus a 0.8% rise from May to June. Analysts had anticipated a small increase.
U.S. retail and foodservice sales reached $682.8 billion last month, compared to nearly $682.6 billion in June. Grocery sales likewise held steady, with $70.8 billion in seasonally adjusted sales for July versus $70.6 billion the prior month.
The Census Bureau also tracks sales at food and beverage stores and found similar buying behavior in those retail businesses, with almost $79 billion in sales for July and $78.8 for June.
Despite proverbial belt-tightening among shoppers this summer, overall retail sales were 10.3% more than during July 2021, by the Census Bureau's figures.
Meantime, based on its own research, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported this week that core retail sales slightly increased in July. Excluding car dealers, fuel stations and restaurants, NRF’s data showed a 0.8% retail sales increase from June to July. Looking at grocery and beverage stores, NRF found that sales edged up 0.2% month over month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.
The NRF aligned with the Census Bureau findings showing year-over-year sales gains. By NRF’s research, core sales were 7.1% higher this year than in July 2021.
“Retail sales grew in July, supported by declines in prices at the gas pump and moderately lower inflation,” said Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and CEO. “Consumers are adapting to higher prices by prioritizing essentials like food and back-to-school items, and retailers are working hard to absorb the impact of higher costs and help customers stretch their hard-earned dollars. However, policy measures like removing China tariffs, enacting smart immigration reform and investing in supply chain resiliency are needed to relieve inflationary pressure and lower costs for American families.”