Retail Foodservice

Prepared Food Sales Continue to Rise

How to harness shoppers’ interest in convenience while adhering to safety standards
Photograph: Shutterstock

Consumers crave convenience. That’s why more and more of them are turning to quick mealtime solutions or prepared foods. According to data from IRI, the deli prepared foods section at grocery retailers accounts for more than half of all department sales. In August 2018, that number topped $12.5 billion across the total U.S.—that’s $2.5 billion more than in 2013. It’s consumers’ need for speed and the increased business that makes paying attention to safety and other issues in the prepared food sections more important than ever.

Assess for success

It’s a good idea for grocery retailers to examine current safety, hygiene and other best practices in their prepared food sections to ensure they’re coming out on top. It’s also important to understand and assess the risks associated with food prepared by grocery stores in order to prevent them. In fact, they’re the same as the general foodborne illness risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and these risks include purchasing food from unsafe sources, failing to cook food correctly, holding food at incorrect temperatures, using contaminated equipment, and poor personal hygiene. Although one might sound more important than another, all of these risks can contribute to potential contamination.

To ensure safety risks are mitigated, grocers can do a number of things, including examining their kitchen footprint. Look for new ways to streamline the experience inside and out. Retailers should also monitor daily operations by keeping a running checklist. Such a list can help ensure efficient and safe working conditions and can also help determine which food training practices and equipment are best for a prepared food program.   

Create new solutions

The Food and Drug Administration says that control of foodborne illness risk starts with having a knowledgeable person in charge, such as a certified food manager, who fosters a culture of food safety in the organization. Following that, having food safety management systems in place helps control risks.

For example, IRI data reveals that the majority of prepared meals purchased are chicken (rotisserie and fried). Fried chicken requires hot oil, and many delis within grocery retailers tend to be located a good distance from the loading dock. As a result, hot waste oil needs to be transported through the store, which has the potential to be dangerous. This could lead to accidents and put retailers at risk. It can also put employees in peril—oil containers are heavy and can easily cause strain, slips or falls.

Coming up with new and alternative solutions to break old habits can help. Consider working with an outside oil vendor. This could be a best practice solution. Stores such as Kroger, Weis Markets, Mariano’s, Ahold and Wegmans to name a few, all use automated oil management services.

The competition among prepared food choices will only continue to heat up as many supermarkets make long-term investments in their prepared food programs. It only takes one negative experience to keep customers away, and that’s enough to wreak havoc with the bottom line.  

Keeping prepared foods areas safe is crucial, so be sure to prepare the store for the influx of business.

This post is sponsored by Restaurant Technologies