Consumers these days are eating differently—and at different places—than they used to. Research shows that many consumers are bypassing standard breakfast lunch and dinner dayparts in favor of simply eating whenever they get hungry or are craving something. Traditional breakfast food might be consumed not only at 9 a.m., but also at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. or even for dinner. And dinner foods, such as a meat-and-two-sides plate? Those could be had at lunchtime, during someone’s 3 p.m. slump or even late at night.
Where consumers are purchasing this food has changed, too. In fact, prepared foods present a growing opportunity for grocery stores to boost profit margins as they battle quick-serve chains and other food outlets for consumer dollars. According to Technomic’s 2016-17 U.S./Food Industry Universe Analysis, supermarket prepared foods are among the top five fastest-growing food industry channels, up 8.9%.
On top of that, consumers aren’t just buying prepared foods at the supermarket; they are specifically going to the grocery store with the intent of purchasing prepared food to eat either at that moment, or soon after. According to Technomic’s 2017 Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report, 80% of consumers report purchasing prepared meals at least once a month, and more than half—55%—eat prepared foods within an hour after purchase.
Snacking is also a leading reason for consumers purchasing more prepared foods and supports the notion that consumers are eating simply when they are hungry, not because there’s a traditional timestamp involved. According to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, 43% of consumers say the reason they purchase a snack is because they’re hungry and it’s not time for a meal yet. Afternoon snacking is the most common, with 75% of consumers saying they snack then, compared to 26% who snack in the morning, 42% at night and 27% late night.
Knowing that, supermarkets have a unique opportunity to offer the fresh, prepared foods consumers seek as an immediate need at any and all times of day. That said, here are some considerations to take when expanding foodservice outside of traditional dayparts.
Widen the variety
Even if more people are in general eating healthfully, they’re not giving up on their favorite indulgences. They might want a fruit and veggie smoothie in the morning but enjoy a little fried chicken for lunch or for an afternoon snack. And, if the grocery store doesn’t offer hot and fresh fried chicken, they’ll go somewhere else to find it.
Given that kind of competition, grocers should focus on food, making sure there are a wide variety of offerings. “Price, decor and ambiance will be key battlegrounds moving forward as operators increase efforts to become hangout destinations and increasingly offer higher-quality fare such as scratch-made pizzas and smoothie bars,” according to Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic.
Steady, small batch cooking
When offering a wider variety of foods at all times of day, it’s imperative for grocery stores to make sure the food is fresh.
That means making sure the prepared foods section is not only well-stocked, but also regularly replenished. As such, more grocers are turning to smaller-batch cooking more frequently during the day. That also means supporting elements, such as fryer oil, might need to be cleaned and maintained more throughout the day and night.
Less staff, more automation
The fact that more consumers are going to grocery stores for prepared foods at all times of the day has a direct impact on staffing considerations. What happens if shoppers come in for food during a non-peak time when there might be less staff working and they can’t find what they’re looking for?
Partnering with the right vendors that have invested in technology themselves can cut down on manual processes, which allows for the redeployment of staff, who can engage with customers or perform other, more important tasks. For example, when it comes to that fryer oil, consider a solution that has built-in oil dispensing and filtering capabilities. No need to dangerously drag oil around the kitchen when oil can be dispensed or replaced at the push of a button. Also consider equipment that has visual and audio alerts, which help staff know when maintenance is required without the need for constant monitoring.
Expanding foodservice throughout the day is a smart move for groceries, but there are many considerations to take when doing so. The good news is, there are many solutions on the market to offer support.
This post is sponsored by Restaurant Technologies