Total Meal Solutions

Total Meal Solutions Awards: 2019 Honorees Make Mealtimes More Accessible

Total Meal Solutions Awards: 2019 Honorees Make Mealtimes More Accessible

The end justifies the means — perhaps that’s too Machiavellian a phrase to describe dinnertime.

But in that journey to dinner — or breakfast or lunch — offering consumers a clear, simple route to the solution for their mealtime goal is the recipe for building baskets and driving sales.

It demands the kind of innovation and excitement like that on display in What’s in Store Live, part of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) annual trade show, designed as an experiential road map to success.

“The industry has really upped its game in bringing vibrancy to the perimeter,” IDDBA CEO Mike Eardley said at this year’s event, which took place last June in Orlando, Fla. “People are investing in being special.”

And it demands attention to younger consumers who continue to grow in spending power, like those identified in the IDDBA’s own research — Generation Xers, interested in grab-and-go and prepared foods, who focus on “what my family eats and needs. I just really want to get in and out.” Like Millennials, interested in snacks, meal kits and ready-to-eat food, who “never know exactly what I’m going to be eating for any meal; I decide when I get there.” And Generation Z, interested in sustainability, brand awareness and “real food,” who “care about my food, and I know what I am eating and consuming.”

To that end, Progressive Grocer challenged retailers and solution providers to come up with winning meal solution concepts, from grab-and-go, dine-in and meal kits to cross-merchandising, shopper engagement and applications of technology. Further, we wanted to see what culinary influences grocery retailers are leveraging to delight and inspire their shoppers.

What follows are some of the most creative and innovative ideas we’ve seen, and which draw on both the in-store and online shopping experience to best serve consumers in our omnichannel world.

cross-merchandising concept

Winner: Wakefern Food Corp.

Keasby, N.J.

Wakefern’s ShopRite banner has reimagined the art of cross-selling with Meals Made Well, an innovative recipe program that offers easy, affordable and healthy meal solutions. 
Developed to help customers discover better-for-you meal solutions at an accessible price point, the weekly recipes, which are “dietitian-approved and chef-created,” incorporate healthy foods from the retailer’s private label lines and vendor partners. Recipes feature center-of-the-plate proteins such as poultry, fish, meat and vegetarian options, and are marketed to consumers via a wide variety of omnichannel touchpoints, including ShopRite’s website, social media platforms and direct-to-consumer email blasts. 

Most of the Meals Made Well recipes posted on are “shoppable,” which means that they can be added to a consumer’s online shopping list via ShopRite’s app, or they can be added to a ShopRite From Home order. The weekly recipe themes are also supported with advertising space in the circular. 

According to Wakefern, however, the “secret sauce” in the program’s success is the execution of the program, as the ingredients are merchandised and promoted by the supermarket’s team of 100-plus dietitians. The dietitians promote the weekly recipes with in-store demos (selling ingredients alongside free samples), cooking classes, free recipe book giveaways, and social media posts. This marketing approach marries digital innovation and in-person dietitian expertise to offer customers a truly high-tech and personalized experience. 

The cross-marketing isn’t limited to recipe ingredients, though, as bundled promotions often incorporate nonfood options such as cooking appliances, glassware or other choices.

A highlight of the innovative Meals Made Well program is eye-catching refrigerated meal carts, which offer the ingredients for that week’s meal for easy pickup and preparation. The carts feature built-in video monitors demonstrating that week’s recipe with step-by-step instructions to assist customers with cooking tips. Additionally, select stores offer fully prepared versions of these healthful meals if customers are looking for heat-and-eat options.

By merchandising products to help customers easily gather all of the ingredients needed for a delicious, healthy meal in one location, ShopRite’s innovative Meals Made Well program provides increased access to better-for-you dinner solutions while driving sales, gaining new fans, and building loyalty and engagement among its customer base.

dine-in concept

Winner: Busch's Fresh Food Market

Canton, Mich.

JB’s Smokehouse at Busch’s features regional barbecue favorites smoked on-site with local Michigan hardwoods, a full bar with 22 Michigan draft beers, and seating for 170 guests, including outdoor patio seating. 

The concept includes Tap Takeovers, featuring 300 Michigan beers from more than 30 breweries. Strong local collaborations allow JB’s to offer pub exclusives and rare beers not available elsewhere. The Tap Takeovers tie in with seasonal and limited-release launches.

Several Friday-evening events featured local craft-beer breweries. Promoted in store, via email, social media, and cross-promotion with featured breweries, the events drove a 41 percent increase in orders and a 57 percent increase in sales for JB’s Smokehouse compared with non-event Fridays.

Honorable Mention: Hy-Vee Inc.

West Des Moines, Iowa

Hy-Vee Market Grille full-service restaurants offer breakfast, appetizers, burgers, flatbread pizzas, sushi, steaks, seafood, Asian-inspired noodle bowls, Cheesecake Factory branded desserts, and other items. Market Grille made-to-order, chef-inspired recipes are available for dine-in, carryout, curbside pickup, and delivery.

Part of the grocer’s new food-court concept, Hy-Vee’s Hickory House provides slow-smoked meats, comfort-food sides and breakfast classics. The retailer escalated its Italian offerings recently with two additional in-store pizza concepts, Dia Pida, which features street-style foods, including piadas, flatbread pizzas, salads and pastas, and its newest, Mia Pizza, which allows customers to choose a signature creation or select their own toppings.

Hy-Vee’s newest Asian concept, The Hibachi, consists of Japanese-, Korean-, Thai- and Vietnamese-style noodle bowls. Select Hy-Vee stores offer Cocina Mexicana burritos, burrito bowls, quesadillas and tacos. Other select stores provide fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies to create a refreshing shopping experience.

Grab & Go Concept

Winner: UNFI

Eden Prairie, Minn.

Quick & Easy Meals offers an expanded line of delicious, fresh and convenient meals at prices on-the-go consumers can afford, available to more than 43,000 UNFI customer locations.

The program offers consumers fully prepared, ready-to-eat, grab-and-go items; completely assembled heat-and-eat meals; and fresh meal-kit options with preselected ingredients already chopped, sliced and measured.

Quick & Easy Ready-to-Enjoy offerings consist of more than 500 items, including hot-and-ready items in the store deli, as well as a variety of freshly made sandwiches, salads, and precut fruits and vegetables. 

More than 70 UNFI (former Supervalu) retail banner stores that have implemented Quick & Easy have seen an almost double-digit sales increase in the grab-and-go category. UNFI independent customers in the program are showing category sales increases from 5 percent to 15 percent since inception.

Retailers that have found success with the Quick & Easy program attribute their gains to the cross-merchandising opportunities that the program brings to the fresh departments. Further, setting up a large display at the front of the store that incorporates the deli, meat and produce categories quickly attracts consumers. 

Honorable Mention: Giant Food

Landover, Md.

Giant has enhanced its assortment of both hot and cold grab-and-go selections with new and improved products and packaging, as well as strategic merchandising and marketing. 

The program refresh encompasses cold items, including new recipes and packaging for green salads, new assortments and recipes for sandwiches, limited-time-offer flavors for both of the latter, and new individual desserts like cake and cheesecake slices merchandised with entrées.

For hot items, Giant went free-from with its rotisserie chickens and introduced limited-edition seasonal flavors; added new hot-bar offerings, including barbecue, ethnic, wing bars, a Chef’s Choice selection, and better-for-you items; and updated the lineup, layout and fixtures at all stores with hot bars and wing bars.

Immediate hot consumables include quick-bake flatbreads such as hummus with figs and prosciutto and olives, plus hot sandwiches. Fried chicken has transitioned to a fresh hand-breaded program for full service, grab-and-go and combo meals. Additionally, Giant introduced a full-service ramen and donburi bowl program. All new program offerings are supported with digital menu boards and dedicated deli pay stations.

Heat-and-eat items include new recipes and an updated assortment for Entrées for One and Two, chilled prepared chicken, and a new recipe, refreshed packaging and a larger size for take-and-bake pizza.

meal kits

Winner: Skogen's Festival Foods

De Pere, Wis.

Responding to consumer requests for meal kits, Skogen’s created a branded program, Step By Step Dinner Kits. Research and testing led to recipe cards, and photo stickers of the finished meals on each vented, handled kit box.

The program encompasses three categories: Slow Cooker (four varieties), Skillet (nine varieties) and Dinner for 2-3 (15 varieties). Slow Cooker and Skillet kits are designed to be easy to prepare and serve a family of four (two adults and two small children). 

All kits, which retail at $15 to $20, include measured, locally sourced ingredients and step-by-step instructions. Kits require no minimum purchase and include less packaging than many competitors’ meal kits. The color-coded packaging is easy to read, prominently calling out the number of servings and approximate preparation time. The only ingredients not included are salt and pepper. Skogen’s partnered with Happy Food Co. to produce all measured dry ingredients, saving significant labor in its already busy deli departments.

Best-sellers are Italian Skillet with Penne Pasta, Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry with Brown Rice, Pesto Chicken Penne with Vegetables, Baked Salmon, Shrimp with Asparagus, and Zucchini Lasagna.

Multiple varieties of the kits are available in-store at all times. Guests also may order ahead using order forms available in the deli. Skogen’s reports a sales increase of around 30 percent when the kits are sampled to guests.

Skogen’s promoted the meal kits in ads, its mobile club and in a YouTube video; offered samples in stores; and included a coupon in its associate newsletter. Shopper feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the flavors, variety and easy prep.

Honorable Mention: Coborn's Inc.

Ramsey, Minn.

To better meet the needs of its average consumer — Millennial moms — Coborn’s launched its To the Table meal kits through its CobornsDelivers service in the Twin Cities greater metropolitan area.

CobornsDelivers began developing customized recipes, with new options offered every season. With initial development by the CobornsDelivers team, a dietitian and an in-house chef soon took over to create the “chef-inspired, dietitian-approved” kits. The jazzed-up, Midwest-inspired recipes were created with the aim of improving the nutrition of fan favorites (leading to the introduction of the Sweet Potato Tater Tot Hot Dish), while also introducing unique ethnic flavors to consumers (for example, Thai Chicken over Sweet Potato Noodles). 

The kits are sold alongside other common grocery items, with no extra subscription fee, and with same-day and next-day delivery available.

Recognizing the needs of time-starved parents, Coborn’s also introduced School Lunch Kits featuring kid-friendly sandwiches, wraps and sides, priced at $4.89 each.

Since launching the meal kits in 2016, Coborn’s has increased basket size and sales. In 2018, CobornsDelivers sold nearly 3,400 meal kits and just over 2,100 lunch kits. 

Honorable Mention: Foodland

Honolulu, Hawaii

Foodland’s meal-kit program is called Calabash, after the traditional vessels that Hawaiians used for food storage and serving. The aim was to create quick and easy meals that reflected local DNA and celebrated current food trends.

The dishes are chef-driven, colorful and vibrant. Instead of offering complete kits with set entrées and accompaniments, Calabash allows consumers to mix and match their main and side dishes from among five options for each. At any given time and every week, one main and one side switches out, creating variety. 

Supported by a dedicated website and Instagram presence, Calabash has been well received by consumers and local media, and more options are in the works as production capacity increases. The program is a standout for being unique to its market, exclusive to Foodland stores and a boost to incremental sales.

Shopper engagement

Winner: Barons Market

Poway, Calif.

Open for eight hours every day, Barons Kitchen is a sampling station where shoppers can try products not typically found at supermarkets.

Customers also can learn how to make simple meals and snacks. “Barons Market is a firm believer in the less-than-15-minute recipe, and we are constantly creating new recipes using our store products,” the Barons team says. “We understand that people don’t want to come home from long days and cook for an hour and a half. Our quick recipes cater [to] feelings of convenience and excitement around our customers’ food choices, rather than the feeling of dread as they decide what’s for dinner.”

After creating these delicious, taste-tested recipes, Barons posts “drool-worthy” photos of the finished dishes on social media, where customers engage, later trying the recipes for themselves. “The feedback on our recipes has been very positive so far,” Barons reports, “and our customers are always excited to see what we come up with next.”

Honorable Mention: Mariano Events

Rochester, N.Y.

This nationwide event-marketing agency executes high-quality sampling events for food, beverage and wellness brands. Mariano Events focuses on telling brand stories through a comprehensive, strategic planning procedure that brings all constituents into the process, from retailer personnel to buyers and sales teams. Events are organized according to product consumption habits, seasonality, shelf proximity, store traffic, and the demographic makeup of a store’s location. The agency has worked with more than 100 national retailers and 300-plus CPG brands.

Using real-time, cloud-based software, Mariano Events tracks sales and item movement, event photos, customer comments, and brand ambassador check-ins. Recognizing that social media platforms are powerful tools that connect communities of consumers with like-minded brands to tell stories, the agency has a digital marketing coordinator work with brand and retail partners to incorporate content marketing and customized calls to action into all sampling event campaigns. 

Using compelling imagery and copy to call out key event information on Mariano Events digital profiles (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) provides stores and vendors alike with additional brand awareness that many traditional agencies overlook.

tech applications

Winner: Grocery Shopii

Cornelius, N.C.

Grocery Shopii is an enterprise software application that aims to solve high cart abandonment and low brick-to-click conversion by bringing the meal-kit concept to the grocery store in a new way. Launched in December 2018, the technology offers online meal planning within a grocer’s existing ecommerce platform, allowing shoppers to select a meal and fill their cart with the single click of a mouse.

Each meal — more than 500,000 of which are offered on the platform — is composed of ingredients sourced from a grocer’s shelves. Proprietary technology develops a unique API with each grocer to fill a cart with selections based on pre-identified product filters like organic or low sodium. Buyers may shop by meal through a seamless integration within a grocer’s existing ecommerce platform. 

For most retailers, online ordering for groceries has set requirements like minimum order values and convenience charges that can derail the completion of online orders. Shopii helps shoppers meet minimum order criteria by filling their carts with meals. 

What makes Shopii unique among alternatives like subscription or delivery services is a combination of time-saving, meal-planning convenience and quick-shop functionality that attracts online shoppers and drives them to checkout.

Shopii licenses its technology for a quarterly fee supported by an advertising program that allows food product manufacturers to promote their products as part of a recipe. 

Culinary champion

Our two honorees will show off their skills in the Chef Showcase at Progressive Grocer’s 
Total Meal Solutions Summit, Sept. 9-10 in Austin, Texas.
Highlights of the showcase will be included in a roundup of the summit in PG’s October 2019 issue.

Honoree: Chef Edi Cucurullo

Hy-Vee, Markato, Minn.

Chef Edi Cucurullo hails from Positano, Italy, where his love for Italian food and seafood began. He studied at Associazione Italiana Sommelier, in Milan, Italy, and has more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry and the art of food-and-wine pairings. 

Cucurullo assists customers in Hy-Vee’s meat and seafood departments as they seek out weekly meal solutions, sharing his fresh, custom approach to a delicious meal. He’s stationed at the Chef’s Grill on the weekends, providing cooking demonstrations and sharing his recipes, including Lasagne Bolognese, Caporalessa Bucatini, Spaghetti Puttanesca and Ricotta Orecchiette Salsiccia. Cucurullo also teams up with Hy-Vee cheese and charcuterie specialists to host monthly educational classes for customers. 

Reaching beyond his home store, Cucurullo hosts his own cooking show, “EDItalian,” on Hy-Vee’s Helpful Smiles Television (HSTV), launched in 2018. Each episode features Cucurullo crafting authentic Italian recipes, allowing viewers to follow along and create their own authentic dishes.

Cucurullo inspires customers to become adventurous in cooking and in purchasing ingredients of superior quality, driving sales for Hy-Vee. His engaging presence also elevates Hy-Vee’s customer experience standards. His love and appreciation for food and wine are infectious, winning over customers at the Mankato Hy-Vee as well as his devoted HSTV viewers.

Honoree: Chef Neal Meier

Hy-Vee, Lakeville, Minn.

The Chef Neal’s Healthy Meals program provides healthy, fresh-made meals that are low in sodium, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, preservative-free and under 500 calories.

So many people today have special dietary needs and fitness goals, including busy professionals who want to eat right, but don’t have the time to cook. Meier’s meals are affordable, and different meal packages are available for purchase. They have proved highly successful, with many repeat customers and weekly orders.

What stands apart is the flavor, the quality of ingredients, and the detail involved in packaging each meal. The menu is expected to expand as the concept continues to grow, with other packages available for purchase that will drive sales and expand the brand. 

About the Author

Jim Dudlicek

Jim Dudlicek was Progressive Grocer's editorial director. 

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