Prepared meals zoom on growth charts

03/08/2011 01:19:43 PM
Jim Offner

Shoppers are sourcing prepared meals from a wider range of retail foodservice operations than they were two years ago, as supermarkets and convenience stores, among others, have expanded their share of the “takeaway-meal” market that is trending toward convenience.

That’s the takeaway from the recent survey by Chicago-based Technomic Inc., Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report.

“Retailers benefit from the fact that consumers are already visiting them for other purchases,” Darren Tristano, Technomic’s executive vice president, said in a news release. “If retailers can offer a foodservice option that rivals that of restaurants in terms of quality, freshness and variety, they can build on the advantage they inherently enjoy when it comes to convenience.”

The survey reported health as a contributing factor in consumers’ move toward prepared meals, citing 40% of consumers saying they consider nutrition when buying prepared foods, compared to about 25% who say nutrition is a factor in their restaurant orders.

Retailers are jumping onboard the trend, said retail consultant Ed Odron, president of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting, Stockton, Calif.

“Retailers continue to try salads with protein, chicken Caesar, Greek salads with cheese, etc.,” he said, “fighting to differentiate themselves, and it is difficult. The plain old salad mix seems to still be one of the better sellers.”

That certainly applies to Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc., said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for the chain.

“In our deli section, we have quick-take items, which essentially are ready-to-go side items and salads, such as baked beans, macaroni and cheese, macaroni salad, etc.,” she said.

“In our produce departments, we have presliced peppers, tomatoes, onions, celery, etc. Again, another timesaver in the prep arena. Having precut vegetable options not only saves time, but can ensure vegetables make it into a dish because no additional time is required.”

According to a study released by the West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group, sales of prepared meals increased 7.3% from 2009 to 2010. The same study reported that the market for fresh convenience foods increased by 5% in 2009.

Retail deli departments are evolving, as well, the study found, as deli prepared foods are showing “growing sophistication” and consumers are “responding to higher quality of deli prepared foods at lower prices than restaurants.”

The Perishables Group study reported the primary consumers of value-added produce offered through deli departments are affluent suburbanites, households with children headed by college-educated residents.

“There are a lot of new innovative products that have gained distribution,” said Steve Lutz, vice president of the Perishables Group. “Costs will come down as more products and competitors enter the space.”

Some produce shippers prefer to focus on individual items, particularly in categories like potatoes.

“The only offer we have on the potatoes would be the Potato Jazz, and there are commodity items where we add value, like the 4-pound tray where you double wash and put a premium pack out there for convenience,” said Jim Richter, Overland Park, Kan.-based executive vice president of sales and marketing for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh.

Phil Fendyan, vice president of sales and marketing for Renaissance Food Group LLC, Rancho Cordova, Calif., said his company brings a full line of diced carrots, as well as carrot sticks.

“We have dip-type items we’re selling — a full range of products,” Fendyan said.

According to a loyalty card study of consumers on the East and West coasts, shoppers with no prepared produce in their shopping baskets spent $40.64; with fruit, they spent $98.73; and with vegetables, $103.56, the study reported.



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