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‘What’s for Dinner?’—The Most Loaded Question In Food Retail

Rick Stein
Rick Stein

by Rick Stein/VP–Fresh, Food Marketing Institute

What’s for dinner? It’s a simple question, but it has profound and far-reaching implications for the food retail industry.

Sixty-five percent of U.S. consumers have no idea at 4 p.m. what’s for dinner. While you might hear a collective clap of a high-five among grocery marketing executives, the reality is that only 15 percent of U.S. consumers identify their supermarket as a solution.

How does one reach the other 85 percent of consumers when they don’t even acknowledge your presence? It seems like an unsurmountable challenge, but the truth is much more tangible thanks to new insights into the consumer psyche with an updated installment of the FMI Power of Foodservice at Retail 2018. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers describe their ideal retail foodservice offering as having the best of both worlds: grab-and-go items when in a hurry as well as made-to-order availability. One-third of shoppers believe all retail foodservice items should be made-to-order, and this share is much higher among foodservice regulars and nutrition-focused shoppers. The future of foodservice at retail is one that caters to this hybrid shopper who wants inspiration—with a tiny bit of perspiration—in terms of putting an affordable, nutritious meal on the table.

In the last five years, food spending for meals prepared at home witnessed 5 percent growth while spending on meals prepared away from home increased 20 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With flat sales, and meals away from home on a growth trajectory, these statistics should make our industry reconsider how they view the foodservice department. As one solution, grocers should reconsider the familiar merchandising mindset of treating deli/foodservice as a department as opposed to treating it as a standalone foodservice solution.

With a revitalized marketing strategy that embraces the hybrid shopper (a shopper that combines food prepared away from home with food prepared at home), food retailers can more fully focus on emphasizing quality, affordability and the convenience of grocery and foodservice shopping combined. They also can better deliver healthier alternatives to restaurant foodservice when health and wellness is top-of-mind among foodservice customers (according to the FMI consumer research when asked what they like about foodservice at retail, health and wellness, affordability ranked high). Ordering healthy, nutritious meals is important for 70 percent of shoppers who eat in foodservice, and many customers indicate that they have sufficient information to make informed choices, but they would appreciate additional tools in the deli/prepared foods department. Popular requests include healthier ingredients, clean labels, more nutritional education and more detailed in-store health information.

Food retailers who embrace health, quality, convenience and another critical lifestyle consideration—a more digitally-engaged foodservice consumer—will be the most successful in this competitive landscape as solution providers. In fact, the study notes that shoppers who are more likely to use technology for dinner planning tend to eat out an average of three times per week. We learned in the research that shoppers appreciate hearing about dinner specials that day by email, while mobile text messaging and social media rank lower on the scale.

So, the perfect storm can be answered with the perfect solution.

The storm is that consumers are buying food prepared away from home more than food prepared at home, but add the fact that “hybrid“ consumers like to match both, and the perfect solution is Retail Foodservice. Food retailers have the opportunity and the ability to offer affordable, healthy options that shoppers purchase at the same time they are purchasing their at-home ingredients.

The next time your customers ask, “What’s for dinner?” you’ll be ready to respond with a satisfying combination of safe, nutritious, affordable food­service options via food retail.

To download a copy of the report, visit

Keep reading:

Rise Of Last-Minute Dinner Plans Is Boosting Prepared Foods Sales

Rutter’s Expands Grab & Go Menu With Locally Grown Produce

Vintage Grocers Welcomes New Culinary Director, Chef Rémi Lauvand

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