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Sushi Company CEO Sees Three Trends Driving Grocerant Innovation

A Genji sushi boutique at a Charlotte, North Carolina, Whole Foods Market.
A Genji sushi boutique at a Charlotte, North Carolina, Whole Foods Market. (Facebook photo/Genji Sushi Bars)

Grocerants—fast-casual restaurants inside supermarkets—appeal to time-challenged, multi-tasking Millennials and Generation Zers, as well as others. Why? Because these stores feel more like experiential food destinations than just food markets.

“Fast-casual dining has exploded in popularity because it combines quick service with high-quality choices,” says Josh Onishi, president and CEO of Peace Dining Corp., a fresh sushi purveyor that has more than 250 company-owned Genji and Mai brand sushi boutiques in Whole Foods Market and other retailers. “For the grocery retailer, grocerants are traffic builders that attract customers and keep them in the store longer.”

Onishi believes the paradigm is shifting for fast casual dining.

“People crave even faster-paced casual dining experiences that match their frenetic lifestyles, but they also want food to be healthy and of superior quality,” Onishi says. “Placing grocerants—fast casual restaurants—within supermarkets and other crossover retail opportunities, satisfies customers’ time and quality demands,” he says. “It’s important for retailers and restaurateurs to innovate and to expand along these lines to stay competitive.”

Onishi suggests three trends that will drive the future of fast-casual grocerant innovation:

1. Customer experience—The whole experience matters, from first impressions to ordering to dining. The future of fast casual allows customers to not only see their food being made, but even to go interactive, directing the preparation themselves, which creates a more personalized and meaningful experience. Amenities are important, too, often including free WiFi, beverage bars, fixings options, made-to-order customizing on the spot and more. These experiential features are designed to encourage customers to shop longer and to spend more, driving top-line sales.

2. Hyper-innovation of menu items—Today’s customer has an attention deficit that fast-casual grocerants can satisfy with a fast-paced, prolific stream of new products and introductions. Although new items must be consistent with the retail and grocerant brands, the innovation pace enhances frequency, loyalty and fun as customers are constantly motivated to try new things and to return and try even newer options. For example, PDC has successfully experimented with sushi in other formats like the creation of appealing twists on classics, such as sushi burritos and sushi donuts.

3. Sustainability—People not only prefer, but actively seek out companies that position themselves as eco-friendly; from vendor selection, operational sustainability, packaging and waste management. The sustainably friendly grocerant has an opportunity to enhance the supermarket’s brand by creating a positive first impression when the customer enters the store.

Established in 1997, Peace Dining Corp. says it is “dedicated to energizing the world with Japanese cuisine.” It offers products designed to appeal to sushi connoisseurs and beginners alike, it says, with a goal to “contribute to healthier food consumption habits on a global level.” In addition to operating 250-plus sushi stations in grocery stores and in upscale supermarkets, Peace Dining serves wholesale corporate dining clients from a central production kitchen.

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