Fresh Food

6 Ways to Heat Up Hot-Bar Sales

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Prepared foods are a powerful magnet for today’s grocery shoppers. Three-quarters (77%) of shoppers who buy prepared foods say this department is important when choosing their primary grocery store, according to Technomic’s June 2019 Consumer Perceptions report for Winsight Grocery Business. Among 35- to 44-year-olds, the figure is even higher—85%.

Clearly, retailers that have a compelling prepared-foods department have an edge. To maintain that edge and continue to attract customers away from the competition—especially restaurants—means offering the right menu mix. Here are some ways to accomplish that.

Focus on favorites

According to Technomic’s Consumer Perceptions, the top five cuisine types consumers express interest in are Chinese, American regional, Mexican, Italian and Japanese/Thai. A grocery hot food bar that doesn’t at least touch on several of these risks losing shoppers’ interest.

There are several ways to handle these demands. For instance, Hy-Vee spotlights one cuisine a day, ranging from mac and cheese to tacos, Asian, pasta and a fish fry. Wegmans, on the other hand, tends to mix it up. The ethnic mashup ranges from meatloaf to stromboli, lo mein to basmati rice, Jamaican jerk chicken to pork pot stickers. Italian, Chinese and American favorites dominate the menu.

Offer LTOs

Consumers are hungry for innovation, and one way restaurants satisfy that appetite is by promoting limited-time offers. For grocery stores, rotating in seasonal or holiday-themed choices is one way to keep the hot food bar fresh and draw attention. The fleeting nature of LTOs—try it before it’s gone—also encourages purchase.

Try variations on classics

Build-your-own taco bars, wings from around the world, fried chicken, mac and cheese and other favorites are good candidates for rotating themed stations. Taco Tuesdays and Wing Wednesdays could become a habit for fans of those two foods, for instance.

Factor in local preferences

Depending on the supermarket’s region or city, certain foods may be more likely to drive purchases. Pierogies might work in Detroit or Pittsburgh but might not fare as well in other cities; more plant-based fare would be welcome in a college town, but perhaps not a suburban store in the South; dry-rub ribs could be hugely success in Texas but only mildly so Florida; and so on. Take inspiration from the area’s most popular eateries to determine the right menu mix.

Suggest bundles

Some customers are looking for leftovers to bring for lunch the next day, or a side to add to dinner; others may have families to feed, and the hot food selections might be overwhelming. By steering these shoppers to complementary dishes and suggesting items like rolls and desserts to go along with main dishes, grocery stores can take away the anxiety and indecision, all while boosting the purchase amount.

Mix it up

A static menu might keep fans of certain dishes happy, but it will not be very inspiring. Developing a reputation for certain signature items is a beneficial strategy restaurants employ effectively. And knowing what customers like—whether it’s pulled pork, pizza or pot stickers—should drive menu selection. Lunds and Byerlys, for example, have found a balance between familiar and exotic tastes by offering a daily rotation of American and global dishes. Permanent staples include mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, chicken tenders and roasted potatoes.

Increasing hot bar sales revolves around giving customers what they’re looking for, routinely changing the variety of foods offered and encouraging meal bundles. With these strategies in mind, stores are set up for success.

This post is sponsored by Blount Fine Foods