Meal planning for today’s consumer is more of a sprint than a marathon. According to research presented by Tyson Foods at a recent conference, 70 percent of shoppers decide today what they will eat for dinner tonight.
Convenience is king – and although the industry has been talking for years about this trend, it continues to grow, fueling the rise of restaurant industry sales and giving birth to a new type of outlet – the grocerant.
Time-crunched consumers in search of quick and easy meals pushed monthly restaurant sales ahead of grocery store sales for the first time in December 2014. And that “share of the plate” keeps tilting more towards restaurant-style dining with each passing month. However, consumers also are thrifty and want restaurant quality food they can eat at home for a good price.
In response, grocery stores have upped the ante to tempt hungry shoppers with fresh, convenient meals on display at the front of the store and in the deli. Offerings include salad bars, soups, sushi counters or minimally wrapped, freshly prepared meals ready to eat after a quick whirl in the microwave. Some outlets encourage consumers to dine in, with small café tables in a side section or front of the store. The wide variety of fresh, ready-to-eat (RTE) meals alongside the dine in-store option has been coined “grocerant.”
This increased foodservice activity means food product manufacturers need to rethink some strategies in order to protect or regain market share.
Key factors defining the foods served at grocerants include:
NPD Crest data reveals consumers prefer to eat at home instead of going to a restaurant in order to keep their dining healthier, save money and because they like home-cooked food. Consumers define their grocery store needs as most closely mimicking fast casual experiences, which promote quality, freshness and customization.
Another driver for this focus on fresh, prepared meals, says Steven Johnson from Foodservice Solutions, is that 50 percent of Americans ages 18 and older are single. This makes a prepared meal an easy choice and less costly than dining out.
While fresh is the top mention by consumers looking for in-store meal satisfaction, they also want variety in flavors. A deli obviously has an easier time catering to seasonality than a packaged prepared food, however, limited editions or limited time offers (LTOs) can work for packaged foods, as well as foodservice. This past fall a number of manufacturers introduced limited editions of popular brands that featured fall flavors, most overwhelmingly pumpkin spice.
One key for a manufacturer seeking to create market interest with a LTO is agility. According to an article in Food Business News, quoting Anil Kaul, Ph.D., chief executive officer and co-founder of Absolutdata, “One of the challenges of the food industry is it typically has a relatively longer innovation cycle from product idea to the shelf...Companies that can move products from idea to shelf very fast are the ones that can be successful.” He predicts a continued emphasis on natural foods as well as flavor swings influenced by global cuisine.
And manufacturers know the key to agile product development is reliance on a trusted stable of quality ingredients that have proven their performance through a variety of processing scenarios over time.
The good news is that retail prepared foods eaten at home are predicted by NPD Group to rise another 10 percent by 2022—double the growth restaurants will see. This places the consumer in the grocery store. The manufacturer that pays attention to the factors driving new meal purchasing decisions can benefit by keeping products as fresh as possible, providing gold standard quality and foods that mimic scratch cooking as closely as possible.
Achieving this means using high-quality ingredients and avoiding those that might make the meal seem less wholesome and fresh. The nuts and bolts that hold products together and give them proper consumer appeal are those ingredients that supply both flavor and functional properties and are as familiar to the consumer as the contents of their own kitchen cupboard. Versatile egg ingredients are available in refrigerated, frozen, dried and value added forms to help develop products that fit in with the rising grocerant dining trends. To locate a supplier of quality egg ingredients, visit our Buyers’ Guide.