Grocerants Part 2: Rethinking Prepared Foods

Jan 8, 2019

In Part 1 of this series , we looked at changes in consumer shopping habits and eating trends and what it means for your store and bottom line. In Part 2, we delve deeper to explore how rethinking your approach to prepared foods to incorporate more “food on the go” and “grocerant” style offerings can help you meet customers’ needs and expectations for convenience and healthier options.

According to Jim Dudlicek, editorial director at Progressive Grocer, the payoff could be big.

“Even one extra meal eaten at home per week is going to boost sales for grocers and most likely save consumers money compared to what they would have spent to dine out in the restaurant channel—and they'll probably feel better that they ate at home.”

Where to begin?

If you’re on board with trying something new and taking advantage of new ways to connect with shoppers and provide what they’re looking for, the next step is deciding what approach to take and how to go about doing it.

Areas for increased opportunities include:

  • Grab and Go meals
  • Heat and Eat meals
  • Fresh food bars (both hot and cold)
  • Made-to-order fresh foods
  • Meal kits

Let’s take a closer look as well as some real-life examples of what stores are doing.

Make it easy for them to make it at home

Along with the continued preference for cooking at home versus going out comes a desire to simplify and streamline the process. This is seen in the surge of meal kits, available through online delivery services and other outlets, which are a small but growing segment.

According to Eric Richard, education coordinator for the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, grocery stores are well-poised to take advantage of this trend. “Everything’s already there. It’s fairly easy to implement,” he said.

One way to test it out is to put together a display with pre-cut veggies, sauces, and smaller cuts of protein options. This is best situated in the front of the store, to grab the attention of people who are looking for a quick solution to that night’s dinner, said Richard. This project can be a great way to encourage collaboration between different departments, too.

Perfect portions

A simple change to make in prepared foods is to have options that meet the needs of a range of people. For example, when Zanotto’s Markets in San Jose, California opened a new location in a more urban setting, they took some of their more popular Grab and Go meal options and scaled them down from a family-sized serving (two pound containers) to eight ounce sizes that feed one to two people. They also sell cooked chicken in quarters rather than whole rotisserie birds, which many of their apartment-dwelling neighbors prefer.

zanottos deliWhen Zanotto’s Markets in San Jose, CA opened a new location, they were able to custom build a state-of-the-art deli.

Kim Kirchherr, registered dietitian and IGA health and wellbeing advisor, agrees that providing a range of portion sizes makes sense. For larger portions, she suggests adding value by communicating the benefits of freezing the extra portions for a future quick meal, or providing tips and ideas for turning the leftovers into something equally delicious.

Emphasize freshness first

One advantage brick-and-mortar stores have over online is the ability to create a unique experience. “Play up the freshness factor. If you have an in-store bakery, utilizing the fresh bread. Focusing on the freshness can set you apart from competitors,” said Richard.

IGA’s new Local equals Fresh merchandising platform could be a great way to start letting your customers know that you are offering them fresh, local, and nutritious options. As IGA CEO John Ross outlines in his year-end address, the Local equals Fresh campaign will be unveiled at the 2019 IGA Global Rally. The underlying theme with emphasizing your local connections is to play off your strengths and better communicate what you are already doing well.

“Find ways to highlight those items made fresh in store that you prepare everyday but maybe your customers aren’t aware of,” Kirchherr said. Whether you are sourcing local potatoes for your potato salad or peaches for that peach cobbler everyone loves, make sure you are putting the story out there, of making it fresh with local ingredients that also happen to include a fruit or vegetable on the menu.

Play up healthy

Having a more balanced diet can mean different things to different people: heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly, vegetarian or vegan, gluten free, low-carb, etc. For many people, plant-based food options are growing in popularity, which makes fruits and vegetables top-of-mind on a regular basis.

As an IGA retailer, you have access to your own registered dietitian, through Kirchherr’s work and all the content posted on the Better Choices blog at There you’ll find articles and recipes designed to help shoppers that are easy for retailers to share on social media.

When trying to navigate through the varying food choices, Kirchherr recommends starting with simple food pairings and preparing easy, balanced dishes with minimal ingredients, so that people following diet plans will be able to easily identify whether it’s something they want to eat.

If introducing more nutritious options, do traditional prepared food staples, like meatloaf and fried chicken, need to go? There can be room for all of it, says Kirchherr. The key is to provide balance to those higher-fat, higher-calorie items, pair them up with sides that include a fruit, vegetable, or other food groups that not only round out the flavor, but provide the opportunity to balance out the total meal. Involve your staff in making their own tasty recommendations, too.

Get bold and try something new

Today’s consumers are more adventurous, looking for complex flavors and interesting mashups of ingredients, says Richard. “There’s a lot of flexibility and room to be creative,” he said. To mix things up, you might want to introduce a variety of ethnic-inspired dishes.

When one of his stores burned down in 2009, owner Phil Blackburn prioritized incorporating a large deli into the new building. That store, Quincy Market IGA, in Central Washington, has been re-opened for about five years and perhaps its most popular feature is its Mexican food offerings, seen in both the hot and cold deli and daily lunch specials.

mexican foodAt Quincy Market IGA in Central Washington, the most popular feature is its Mexican food offerings, seen in both the hot and cold deli and daily lunch specials.

Originally driven by demographics (about 80 percent of the community is Hispanic, plus the town sees an influx of seasonal farm workers), the authentic dishes—featuring family recipes from the deli manager’s Mexican heritage—are a hit with customers of all ethnicities and people even come in on the weekends for pozole, fried rice, refried beans, and other specialties.

The store contracts with a baker who comes in the early morning to make torta rolls and other delicacies and another who comes in to make fresh tortillas. With three to four staff on hand during the lunch rush, the deli is fast running out of space and Blackburn plans to expand it this coming year.

His advice to other retailers? “Find someone that understands the culture and don’t be afraid to try something new. Experiment. Make it local and make it fresh.”

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