Time, Convenience Key to Dinnertime Daypart
In grocery stores, rotisserie chickens and bagged salads have been the rock stars for easy meal solutions, and these items will always be important to busy shoppers.
But as variety, customization and flavor exploration continue to drive consumer choices, grocery stores need to expand how they view meal planning for busy consumers.
Recent research from Nielsen Perishables Group shows that 77 percent of all adult eating occasions in the U.S. now involve at least some foodservice, prepared, or ready-to-eat items; for Millennials, it’s 88 percent.
“Consumers now have the ability to get basically anything made the way they want within foodservice, and the supermarket industry must follow suit,” says Sarah Schmansky, director of business operations at Nielsen Perishables Group. Grocery stores also need to excel in terms of offering time and convenience: “Consumers have less time to prepare food, coupled with the need for quick solutions that limit preparation time."
Stores need to accentuate ease of running into the store and picking something up by offering curbside pick-up, call-ahead ordering and other services that consumers will consider in the same way they rely quick-service restaurants or drive-thru windows, advises Schmansky.
And while that 77 percent statistic speaks volumes about the importance of prepared food programs, it also shows opportunities for the rest of the grocery store, where more staff guidance can help shoppers mix prepared, fresh and packaged items from across categories to personalize meal-making and even learn–or relearn–their own ways around the kitchen.
At Northgate Gonzalez Market, part of a 41-unit chain of family-owned grocery stores in Southern California, family meal planning is front-and center in the store and is supported in every section, from the $6.99-a-pound hot food bar to the flour and corn tortillas that are made fresh daily in the store.
Prepared foods and beverages take up most of the right side entry area of the market, where a horchata bar offers a dozen varieties for thirsty shoppers. A sandwich and torta counter is next in line, and arrows painted on the impeccably clean floor direct shoppers to tacos, burritos and bowls, made-to-order and ready for anytime eating. Sampling is encouraged throughout, and staff members offer everything with pride.
For self-service options, soup, salsa, enchiladas, and pulled pork are just a few options available by the pound at Northgate Gonzalez Market’s hot and cool bars. A dedicated staff person encourages tastings and serving suggestions. For example, mini corn sopes, a new store-made item, are merchandised nearby. A prepared food expert suggests pairing them with eggs, cheese and salsa for easy breakfasts at home. Further into the perimeter, pre-marinated and seasoned proteins are merchandised in a dedicated case.
“These make it easy for busy families to put a hot home-cooked meal together. They are seasoned and packaged for a quick finish at home,” says Jesse Munoz, operations manager at Northgate.
The proteins are available in three-packs of all the same variety or in packs of pork, chicken and beef. Munoz explains that these options are geared to planning large family meals or buying for several meals during the week.
Above the cooler where these options are displayed, the store’s house-made tortillas are stacked and ready to be filled. Nearby, a cheese counter and salsa and soup bars offer more ways to complete a meal. For even more meal making solutions, Gonzalez’s markets offer bilingual tamale cooking classes and kids’ cooking classes, many of which are filled weeks in advance.
Interaction, In Store and Out
The staff-customer interaction at Northgate Gonzalez Market is exactly what busy shoppers need to solve some meal preparation challenges, according to Eric Richard, education coordinator for the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDBBA).
“More consumer engagement—whether through social media, in-store marketing, or other promotional avenues—can help retailers spread the message among shoppers and prospective shoppers that their store offers much more than just groceries,” says Richard. “As part of the messaging, focus on the eye-grabbing attributes of the meal solutions—such as freshly-made, local ingredients and flavor highlighting—to illustrate the quality of the items. Additionally, consumers are drawn to sights and smells, so be sure to create a visual experience where consumers can see and smell orders and items being made, especially for chef-made items.”
Cindy Schmidt, senior specialist of fresh foods of Skogen’s Festival Foods, based in De Pere, Wis., describes how in the last six months, her stores have used social media and in-store marketing to help launch two lines of One-Step Prep meals.
“The meals are put together by our meat department, and the quality is tops. They are really going over well. It’s the most exciting program we’ve added in recent history. They are an easy fit with bagged salads and other add-ons,” says Schmidt. “The microwave meals are winning a lot of converts with seafood. In two to four minutes, guests can have stuffed or seasoned salmon dinners. The pan-foil oven varieties are available in about 50 options.”
Promoting these new meals is a multi-media effort, notes Schmidt. “We have information and preparation demos about these meals on our Facebook page.” The meals are also featured on the website and in store blogs, all of which support in-store demos and sampling.
Add-ons Add Up
Nielsen’s Perishable Group’s extensive research into connecting store categories finds specific correlations between certain grocery items. For instance, fresh herbs, spices and seasonings have a strong statistical association with specialty cheese and represent easy add-ons sales for enhancing prepared meals, while also providing inspiration for consumers to make premium meals at home through cross promotions and recipes.
“Co-promote deli bulk meat and specialty cheese to encourage busy families to make exciting, restaurant-style sandwiches for quick, weeknight meals,” Schmansky suggests. “Or create grilling season meal solutions where all the ingredients needed for a premium dinner made on the grill are merchandised together.”
In many cases, vendors and suppliers can also help with cross merchandising efforts. Pam Basciani, group director for retail channel strategy and commercialization at The Coca-Cola Co., describes a grilling occasion-based merchandise techniques her team has created.
“This display had all of the supplies for a barbeque in the backyard: Hamburger buns, condiments and the beverages that show basket share. This bundle is rooted in consumer insight, knowing that 35 percent of households cook their dinner on a grill at least once every two weeks, particularly men and millennials,” Basciani describes.
Part of connecting multiple store categories to address consumer need states is studying sales patterns. For instance, in retailers with a good soup and sandwich program, Schmansky recommends displaying smaller sized artisan breads by the deli soups between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., where a sales peak helps gain incremental bakery breads purchases.
Connecting prepared soups and bakery is another cross category strategy on display at the Northgate Gonzalez Market, where artisan torta-style rolls fill a basket near the soup kettles and are offered as a $1 add-on.
IDBBA’s Richard recommends another great opportunity for elevating the role of deli soup by offering bread bowls for an added dinner touch. “Since these categories together also index high with “Older Bustling Families,” we thought a soup and sandwich meal deal for the weekdays would offer a quick and unique meal solution,” Richard explains. “Shoppers could select from a few different soup and sandwich offerings and select different sizes of deals to cater to their family size. This could be highlighted in the weekly ads.”
Richard continues, “Another concept is to utilize the dough and/or bread products in the store’s fresh-made pizza program. This was a concept illustrated at IDDBA’s Show & Sell Center at our annual Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar and Expo in Houston last June, with the notion that in-store bakeries could incorporate a pizza-making component to its department that offers pizza by the slice, made-to-order, or take-and-bake.”
Just as grocery store items need to connect with other categories within the store, so should staff members.
“Everything we do is a team effort and the result of an environment where people are willing to take changes and fail sometimes," Schmidt says. "The way we see it, failing two times out of five is better than taking zero chances. Both staff and guests need to see grocery stores as places to innovate.”