As food prices rise, grocery shoppers have increased their restaurant visits, finding value in promotions designed to bring diners back in and combat recipe fatigue with the lure of a rotating menu and the convenience of having food cooked for them.
But grocery retailers haven't lost these shoppers for good. According to a November report from FMI - The Food Industry Association, shoppers want grocery stores to be more like restaurants.
“Retail foodservice can be promoted as the choice when consumers aren’t in the mood to prepare dinner themselves and when they need to produce a quick meal," the report says, adding that shoppers still consider grocery to be a good value during this inflationary period.
So how can an independent grocer be more like a restaurant without a new business plan? Meal solutions!
What is a meal solution?
What is a meal solution? Ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat options, or merchandising a specific recipe with all of the products in one place (as seen in the Family Meals Made Easy! endcap below).
Shoppers appreciate the help from their neighborhood grocer — the proof is in the sales. Deli prepared food sales were up 9.3% in 2022 from 2021 and up 19.2% from the pre-pandemic 2019 period, according to the FMI Power of Foodservice at Retail 2022 report.
The Family Meals Made Easy! endcap is a one-stop meal destination with recipe cards and ingredients for a pasta dish.
What are examples of meal solutions?
Independent Grocers Alliance stores across the country are catering to shoppers' needs and tastes by creating meal solutions that work best for their stores and shoppers. Each community has their own preferences in proteins and vegetables, so use your sales data to determine the selections that could be top sellers.
In the case of one retailer's best practice, best sellers include pre-seasoned chicken, green bean, and ears of corn. This store positioned store-made meal solutions under a sign that read, "Quick and Easy," and also offered prime rib, salmon, pollock, and steak. These meal solutions quickly brought in an extra $2,000 a week while boosting deli sales.
Retailers may also consider seasonality. In cooler climates, heartier dishes may be more popular in winter, while the summer months may call for grilling something light and refreshing.
1. Store-made deli meals
These meal solutions for one or two people feature a protein, side, and vegetable. Retailers can offer a variety of combinations, all made, cut, and pre-cooked in-store. Keep each item separate to allow shoppers to choose their options. Your wholesaler may sell microwaveable bags that have pre-printed cooking instructions, so check with yours to see if it's an option.
Not only is this meal solution a winner for shoppers, it allows retailers to highlight their local identity and value through store-made recipes that will become a staple in many families' homes. Use your Local Equals Fresh stickers and signage to visually distinguish these items.
Local Equals Fresh "Made Fresh Here" stickers on fresh rolls.
Wright's Market shoppers might not even need to pop the food in the microwave if they get home fast enough! Their smoked baby ribs, rotisserie chicken, and mashed potatoes are portioned out to feed the whole family and have leftovers.
2. Prepped and ready-to-cook options
Bob's Windham IGA in Connecticut does the slicing and dicing for their shoppers, placing pre-cut onions, shredded lettuce, sofritos, and fresh salsas on ice in the produce department, helping shoppers get a step ahead on Taco Tuesday. All shoppers need to do is grab the items and sauté in their skillet at home.
The Tex-Mex theme continues at Northwest Indiana's Strack & Van Til. They do all the meal prep for shoppers with their popular fajitas, cutting and seasoning the meat and vegetables and cross-merchandising taco shells nearby so all the shoppers need to do is heat up the skillet or grill.
3. IGA.com Recipes
IGA.com/recipes has a myriad of — you guessed it — recipes that are easy to make and nutritious. These recipes feature fresh produce, frozen staples, and IGA Exclusive Brand products, and some leverage Red Oval partner recipes. For example, Idahoan® shares this Chunky Soup Pour Over recipe that delivers a hearty meal with only two products, while Knorr provides a Lemon Thyme Chickpeas with Broccoli dish that includes produce, canned goods, packaged dairy, and more.
In addition to these recipes, IGA's Quarterly Marketing Kits feature a valuable comparison tool that shows shoppers just how much they're saving by shopping your store and cooking at home compared to dining out and ordering in, prompting even more meal solution opportunities.
Restaurant comparison signage in the Quarterly Marketing Kit.
What's the best way to market these meal solutions?
The above examples illustrate how these independent retailers are marketing their meal solutions through social media, calling out the quality of ingredients and meat that shoppers get at their local grocer and the great flavor that is on par with their local restaurant. Highlighting quality, value, and convenience is a great tactic!
New England-based Geissler’s Supermarket IGA takes their meal solutions a step further by showing the finished product in “What’s on Bob’s Plate,” a video series featuring Geissler's President Bob Rybick.
In each episode, Rybick sits at his home table and lets shoppers know what's on his dinner menu for the night with offerings shoppers can find at his stores. This inspiration goes a long way, as it helps shoppers decide on that missing side dish or discover recipe ideas.
President of Geissler's Supermarkets Bob Rybick brings the meal solutions home with "What's on Bob's Plate?"
In addition to marketing these meal solutions on social media, signage, recipe cards, and cross-merchandising can call attention to your offerings inside the store.
Made Fresh signage points to meal solutions.
And don't forget to include your meal solutions in your digital ads. Geissler's adds them to their National Digital Ad so shoppers see the meal solutions before they reach the store and can add them to their list with the click of a button.
Grocers can get as creative as they would like with these meal solutions. As shoppers look to their local store for solutions to their recipe ruts and time crunches, meal solutions can help establish your store as your shoppers' partner. That means they'll remember you the next time they consider going out or ordering takeout.
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