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Hot Food Bars Dish Up Comfort Fare

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Grocers’ grab-and-go meal choices have come a long way from the rotisserie chicken. Today’s food retailers understand the need to provide crowd-pleasing, convenient choices to satisfy shoppers with a wide variety of tastes.

And shoppers are responding. Prepared foods are one of the fastest growing sales categories across the grocery industry, according to Nielsen figures. Not surprisingly, many of the same foods that sell well in restaurants pop up on supermarkets’ hot buffets: pizza, wings, pasta, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and soups are perennial favorites. For the one-fifth of consumers who say that they prefer sticking to their favorite flavors/foods and rarely try new ones (including 23% of baby boomers), according to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, it’s no surprise these nostalgic comfort foods are at the top of some shoppers’ lists.

Take a look at what’s on-trend in grocery hot bars:

Wisconsin’s Festival Foods grocery chain mixes up its regular offerings—rotisserie chicken, baked and fried chicken, potato wedges, gourmet vegetable blend and mashed potatoes with gravy—with daily features that change from week to week. Rotating selections include a chili and soup; a vegetable of the day, mac and cheese, and other comfort favorites. Some weeks feature Taco Tuesday, with tacos, fajitas, enchiladas and all the fixings, or Supper Club Friday, offering fried and baked fish, beef tips over noodles and baked potatoes.

Revolution Market in Ft. Collins, Colo., offers a rotating selection of two-person ready-made meals that includes something for every appetite including lasagna, Pad Thai, mac and cheese and meatloaf, with recipes adjusted throughout the year to accommodate seasonal produce.

And Massachusetts-basedStar Markets’ 20 units contain a hot bar with entrees, sides, soup and four types of wings. Star Markets also offers ready-to-go choices such as brisket, breaded chicken breast and hand-stretched pizzas.

Mac and cheese is a standard dish found on many food bars, but Whole Foods took the humble but beloved dish up a notch—and stirred up a frenzy of media excitement—with the debut of its first mac and cheese bar at a new store in Denver last fall. The bar, at the Union Station store, offers classic mac and cheese along with a rotating selection that includes barbecued pulled pork, green chilies, roasted tomato, buffalo chicken,  bacon cheeseburger, broccoli, and  carnitas and smoked mozzarella versions. A vegan alternative is also available. Another mac and cheese bar at a new Honolulu Whole Foods also sells pork belly, jalapeno and brisket versions.

Hot bars that spotlight wings are also landing in more supermarkets. Roche Brothers, with 18 stores in Massachusetts, serves honey, maple bourbon, Carolina BBQ, sweet teriyaki and Buffalo-style wings as well as “flats and drummies”—breaded and fried mini wing parts.

Regardless of the selection, hot bars increasingly satisfy the “What’s for Lunch? What’s for dinner?” quandary so many consumers face today.

This post is sponsored by Blount Fine Foods

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