Progressive Grocer

JAN 2017

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88 | Progressive Grocer | Ahead of What's Next | January 2017 Prepared Foods Fresh Food fresh-made heat-and-eat portion-controlled meals. "In the grocery segment, a lot of people don't realize there is a healthy prepared option," notes Andrew Hsueh, Perfect Fit's president and founder. His com- pany's prepared foods are high in protein and fiber, and "low in everything else," Hsueh asserts. Likewise, the current consumer clamor for protein can be a boon for suppliers and their retail partners. "We have experienced requests in the hot-food deli section, with offerings like hot bars and take- home seafood protein components to supplement other food groups," says James Faro, director of sales for National Fish & Seafood, in Gloucester, Mass. "Also, many of our retail partners ask for bian- nual to quarterly innovations to complement the weather season or holiday season." Making the Connection Beyond serving prepared foods that fit shoppers' tastes and preferences, stores can maximize sales and differentiate themselves in how they promote and merchandise the items. From her conversations with shoppers as part of the research for the "Power of Fresh Prepared/Deli" study, Roerink discovered that one of the biggest findings was how the majority of shoppers only know about a store's prepared food program by seeing it or experiencing it for themselves. "Retailers have an enormous opportunity to con- nect with shoppers in meaningful ways at the crucial planning hour with daily specials, meal ideas, mix- and-match ideas, using social media, mobile and text messages," she says. "at requires shopper buy-in and trust, but if retailers can prove to be part of the ever- present 'what's for dinner?' dilemma, they can quickly rise as a viable restaurant alternative that shoppers deem healthier and less expensive." Kostyo suggests making the prepared food area a convenient destination instead of just setting out foods and hoping shoppers will come. According to Datassential's findings, shoppers want menu boards and limited-time offers so they can try new foods; they also have high expectations for speed of service, staff friendliness and décor. Additionally, supermarkets can distinguish their offerings and connect with consumers by providing healthier or wholesome choices in their prepared food sections and letting consumers know about those options. "One way in which retailers are educating customers is through increased ingredient labeling, particularly as prepared foods continue to be an attrac- tive solution for families," Giant Eagle's Donovan says. "is trend has been a healthy challenge to retailers to be more mindful during the recipe creation pro- cess, without compromising on the need to deliver a delicious-tasting item or meal." In addition to labeling, other packaging ele- ments can lead to more effective merchandising of prepared foods. "Packaging is becoming very important," Stein asserts, adding that consumers are interested in packaging that protects the integrity of prepared foods, is attractive and, when possible, is environmentally friendly. "Also, packaging can generate more sales, depending on the packaging you use. Labels, for example, connote quality and food safety. I really think supermarkets are leading the way with pre- pared foods packaging." Suppliers that provide packaged prepared foods also focus on packaging as part of the overall product profile. Perfect Fit Meals, for example, is developing new packaging that will allow customers a better view of the product, so "that what you see is what you get," as Hsueh puts it. Staying Competitive Looking ahead, the pace of innovation in prepared foods is set to continue. "As a differentiator, prepared foods afford us a tangible way to continue to compete against club stores, dollar stores and alternative formats that could possibly lure customers away," notes Wake- fern's Wexler. "Moving towards the future, we will continue to invest in programming that addresses the shifting meal preferences of our customers. From an innova- tion standpoint, it's an exciting time to be in this dynamic industry." In his long-term forecast, Lempert predicts that prepared foods will likely undergo another iteration as the buying and selling landscape changes. "We'll see delivery-only restaurants and deliv- ery-only grocery stores," Lempert says, noting the buzz around the new Amazon Go store at which shoppers use a mobile app to automatically purchase products in a digital shopping cart, eliminating the need for in-store checkout. "ey are making pre- pared foods in the store ready to pick up and go." PG Grocery stores that have been able to build a reputation and destination by innovating and staying above the trend with flavors, ingredients and customizable options have given restaurants a run for their money." —Anne-Marie Roerink, 210 Analytics

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