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Upping Our Game


by Anne-Marie Roerink/Principal, 210 Analyticsand Rick Stein/VP of fresh food, FMI

Supermarket fresh prepared has enjoyed robust growth in recent years, but how do we sustain this growth? Retailers will need to continue to find ways to up their game in fresh prepared in order to drive both trip frequency and basket size for fresh prepared items. This means finding ways to draw shoppers to the deli department when in the store as well as prompting fresh prepared purchases among deli consumers there for deli meats, cheese and other items. Additionally, it means becoming a prepared foods destination much like a restaurant, which will help drive trips when the shopper did not plan to make a grocery visit as well as prompt trips among secondary or new shoppers.

To help understand what shoppers are looking for, “Power of Fresh Prepared/Deli 2017” looks at shopper expectations from many different angles:

1. The solution type that draws that highest shopper interest.

2. Operational improvements that would drive a better shopping experience.

3. The types of items that shoppers would like to see offered.

4. The cuisines shoppers are interested in the most.

1. Freshly prepared heat-and-eat solutions top list of solution types

Fresh prepared is offered many ways, and the study tested consumer interest for each solution type. Prepackaged but freshly cooked items that can be reheated easily draw the greatest interest at 38 percent. One respondent said they were looking for items that are “already packaged and prepared, easy for me to pick up and go. I don’t have a lot of time and what I do have I don’t like to waste.” Fresh meal kits, much like Blue Apron, Plated or HelloFresh, came in second.

Fresh prepared 1

With shopper interest running the gamut from a side dish to a full dinner or lunch, no one solution type fits all deli operations, and the winning formula needs to be highly tailored to the individual store audience. But a few important conclusions are:

• Shoppers who regularly visit the deli have a much higher interest for all the solution types, particularly the server-style and self-serve stations.

• Millennial interest is far above average for all five solution types, and fresh prepared is an important area to connect with Millennials for partial- or full-meal solutions, especially when customizable.

• Trial and usage drive a thirst for more.

• Shoppers who buy fresh prepared for lunch are a high-interest target to convert for dinner solutions.

• Likewise, when deli is seen as a point of differentiation, shoppers are much more likely to seek out any of the fresh prepared solution types.

• Fresh prepared is an important solution for single households on the one hand, and large households of four or more people on the other. Singles stress the convenience and savings, whereas larger households stress the meal variety and value.

Urban and suburban stores see a higher interest in ready-to-eat solutions, whereas shoppers in less densely populated areas are more interested in solutions they can reheat at home. These seem to also be a point of entry to fresh prepared consumption.

• Chef-prepared solutions are attractive to the higher-end consumers, including supermarket and specialty store shoppers. Millennials, too, are interested in solutions prepared on the spot to their liking.

2. Operational wants center on speed, information and cleanliness

While 21 percent of shoppers indicate they are simply not in the market to purchase more fresh prepared, top operational features that would increase the likelihood of others opting for deli/fresh prepared foods more frequently center on speed, information and cleanliness/ambiance. Speed includes features focused on ordering ease and advance ordering as well as pickup convenience, with separate checkout lanes being the highest rated feature at 26 percent.

Several top operational wants focus on facilitating easier ordering and pickup. While meeting consumer expectations is important in the battle for the eating-out dollar, it is important to take into consideration the impact on the total trip. For instance, with 26 percent of shoppers favoring a separate checkout lane for the deli to drive a quick shopping trip, a separate deli lane discourages shopping the rest of the store to increase the transaction size. On the other hand, features aimed at creating a more inviting atmosphere may keep the shopper at the store longer. This includes younger Millennials, who are significantly more likely to enjoy the idea of eating in-store, as evidenced by higher interest in a clean seating area, free Wi-Fi, entertainment and an outside patio. One shopper said, “Unless the store has a nice diner-style deli, I’m solely interested in getting and going.” At the same time that Millennials have a higher interest for eating in-store, they also find home delivery attractive. One of these shoppers explained that home delivery would allow the luxury of “actually being able to order certain deli items, like fried chicken, online that currently can only be picked up physically at the store since I buy nearly 100 percent of my groceries online. When not cooking, I order from restaurants because deli is not an option though it’s good and cheaper.”

Fresh prepared 2

3. Shoppers want local, organic and chef-inspired items in varying lineup

Shoppers’ growing demand for local and organic items in produce and meat is extending to fresh prepared. Other menu features—such as gluten-free, drinks or alcohol selection, or restaurant-branded items—resonate more strongly with Millennials than any other population group. Additionally, the importance of variety both in assortment and a regular rotation of items is endorsed by one-quarter of shoppers and holds strong across all generations. In fact, “greater variety” was the No. 1 suggestion by shoppers when asked about improving their store’s fresh prepared offering. Interestingly, Nielsen found that the best-in-class retailers carry 57 percent more assortment than lower-performing retailers across all fresh departments.

Fresh prepared 3

Some conclusions:

• Millennial interest in fresh prepared as a way to incorporate it as side dishes and main meals positions the deli as an important gateway to future generations. They are interested in features that keep them at the store as well as a wider variety of options. Can the deli serve as a bridge to grow loyalty among Millennials and grow their basket in the rest of the store? This begs the question of whether the operational and menu features should be aimed at the current or future shopper audience.

• Mega-trends driving sales in produce and meat also draw high interest in fresh prepared. This makes a consistent story and merchandising approach across all departments in the store ever so important. Local, organic or other programs have power far beyond the occasional procurement and can drive important store loyalty.

• Variety is key to driving purchase frequency. Stores can drive consumer satisfaction by incorporating new trends and flavors, which also will help set them apart from the competition.

• Professionally prepared or inspired meals are another theme that emerges throughout the survey. Giving the program a name and a face, knowledgeable staff in professional attire as well as available and friendly deli personnel are all key to driving the notion of chef-prepared and -inspired.

4. Younger generations look for more adventurous meals

While some cuisines have near-universal appeal to shoppers of all ages, many of the more ethnic cuisines see much higher interest among Millennials. With distinctly different tastes and expectations, success means matching the meal lineup with the unique store audience. This is particularly important to larger chains operating in more than one marketplace or operating more than one store format. Cuisine preferences play out at the hyper-local level.

Fresh prepared 4

Cuisines with a fairly broad appeal include American, salads, Italian, Mexican and Chinese—all cuisines that have been featured on menus for many years. An opportunity lies in elevating the experience surrounding these cuisines through ideas such as wood-fired pizza, gluten-free crust options or the use of organic ingredients.

While cuisines with broad interest may be the “safe” bet, more distinct dishes can bring a unique appeal and reputation to the deli department, particularly among Millennials. Cuisines that draw much greater interest among younger shoppers include Japanese/sushi, Thai and Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern and Korean. For Millennials and Gen Z, “ethnic” food is no more. Instead, “ethnic” meals entail very specific cuisines. One Millennial commented that they’re looking for “not just different ethnic cuisines but variety within choices of basic and more authentic foods and dishes. They all do Mexican and Asian foods poorly from my experience. It’s Americanized food instead of an authentic experience.”

*Editor’s note: The Power of Fresh Prepared/Deli is a product of the Food Marketing Institute, commissioned by the FMI Fresh Foods Leadership Council, made possible by Nielsen, Hussman and The Shelby Report, and conducted by 210 Analytics. This is the final piece of a four-part series examining the report’s findings. Part 4 also appears in the May 2017 print editions of The Shelby Report. Find Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

About the author

Kristen Cloud

A former newspaper editor and publisher, she once enjoyed leisurely perusing the grocery store aisles but, since having a baby in 2016, she is now an enthusiastic click-and-collect shopper.


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  • This reads like a category management report of yesterday customer migrations will continue when an industry refuses to adopt with attributes and food relevance the evolving consumer. Grocerant niche Ready-2-Eat and Heat-N-Eat fresh prepared food is booming while many legacy food retailers the ilk of Publix, Wlamart and Albertson’s look to the past for answers. I ask how is that working for them? Outside eyes can drive inside profits!

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