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Retail Foodservice

How Grocers Can Capitalize on Consumers’ Dining Decision Dilemmas

There’s more to the equation than food

What’s for dinner? Dine in or dine out? What time?

Decisions, decisions. And it’s not just the consumer asking them. These are questions supermarket operators have been pondering for many years. A few years back, dining-out occasions surpassed dining-in occasions for the first time. And while some experts forecast that inflation will impede this growth, the facts simply cannot be ignored. The National Restaurant Association projects the U.S. restaurant industry to reach $799 billion in 2017, illustrating the appeal of dining out and prepared food offerings to today’s consumers.

And it’s not just traditional restaurants that are cashing in on this trend; for example, the number of food halls are expected to exceed 200 nationally by 2019, a 700-percent increase since 2010, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

So, what is driving this trend? A variety of factors come to mind, including convenience, household size, or simply the desire to try new cuisine, dishes, tastes, and flavors. Millennials and Generation Z also play a major role, as they’re more likely to eat out than other generations.  

Let’s pause for a second to acknowledge another trend that, on the surface, appears to counter the growing dining-out movement: the popularity of cooking programs, celebrity chefs, and greater interest in learning how to cook and developing culinary skills. The generations driving the growth in dining-out sales—Millennials and Generation Z—are the same groups stating that they also enjoy cooking at home, especially dinner.

While the two trends seem to contradict each other, what’s most important to retailers is the message derived from them. In both instances, it’s not just about the food. It’s about the experience. And creating an experience for consumers will steer them to supermarkets for not only prepared-food dining opportunities, but also product purchases for creating meals at home.

As retailers know, it’s impossible to pigeon-hole shoppers as a whole when it comes to purchasing patterns. And as I’ve said before, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works in the world of food retail. 

Through its research, IDDBA identified three major trends within eating patterns of today’s consumers. Detailed in What’s in Store 2018—the association’s annual resource book—an analysis of these trends shows how retailers can connect with consumers seeking both prepared and cooked-at-home meal options.

 These trends are:

  • Greater interest in fresh, prepared foods. Sales in this supermarket sector are up 3.8% over the last four years.
  • Away-from-home spending surpassing at-home spending, as mentioned above.
  • The continued evolution of meal occasions and rituals. Family traditions like Sunday dinners at home are no longer the norm, while snacking now accounts for half of all eating occasions.

Knowledge is key when it comes to business success, and retailers that acknowledge consumer eating trends and implement concepts to engage these individuals will capitalize. Retailers can appeal to these shoppers by marketing meal solutions in their in-store delis, bakeries, prepared-food departments, and on-site restaurants. In essence, create a story around all need states: ready-to-eat, ready-to-heat, and ready-to-cook.

  • Focus on features, such as prepared food, foodservice, and dinner options, as well as meal kit programs.
  • Share the advantages of selecting a store as a meal choice option, including the convenience and time-savings, and meal personalization based on the likes and dislikes of the shopper and the people he or she is purchasing for.
  • Highlight the benefits to the shopper:
    • Making the shoppers’ lives easier.
    • Creating meal occasions with families and friends with ease, low stress, convenience, variety, and innovation.
    • Presenting opportunities to feed family and friends, and connect with them. This could even include creating new traditions or times of shared camaraderie.
    • While few of us are as talented as the chefs featured in cooking shows, meal kits empower customers to create great meals at home. And it’s not just about the food, as meal kits provide hands-on experiences that can equate to memories and lively conversations during prep. 

Consumer eating patterns are evolving, but supermarkets are in a prime position to take advantage of every eating occasion. This includes the “why” factor that influences eating occasions, which will be explored in my next installment.   

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