As scratch-made family meals continue to be valued but hard-to-deliver commodities, shoppers are turning to supermarket delis to help them put healthy, home-style dinners on the table during the holidays and throughout the year.
Prepared meals, in fact, will continue to grow globally at a rate of 3.5 percent through 2017, projects research from dunnhumby, a Tesco-owned customer science company. “Time-poor customers in families where both parents work are increasingly reliant on budget-friendly alternatives to restaurant meals,” writes Julian Highley, leader of dunnhumby's global trends unit, in a Progressive Grocer blog posting. “Prepared meals, especially in the ‘fresh and ready’ category, fill this need.
“Customers are shifting from traditional ready meals to fresh prepared meal solutions, and are increasingly interested in simple and quick cooking from scratch,” Highley adds. “In addition to expanding meal solutions that focus on creating fresh, low-cost and healthy options, retailers should also consider innovations in fast and uncomplicated menu planning, with an emphasis on ready-to-cook options.”
Prepared meal solutions
Options are the name of the game for prepared foods at Town & Country Markets’ Central Market stores in Mill Creek, Shoreline and Poulsbo, Wash. Myriad lunch and dinner solutions are available at all locations, with the biggest selection at the 56,600-square-foot Mill Creek store that opened in 2004.
“Over the past 10 years, our home meal solutions category has seen incredible growth,” reports Robert Foley, who has been Mill Creek’s deli manager for the past decade. “We’re finding that people are time-starved but still have the desire to have fresh, healthy food options with a home-style feel for their families. They don’t want to eat out all of the time, so our home meal solutions bridge that gap between eating out and having fresh prepared foods at home.”
The store’s deli offers a selection of specialty foods; self-serve bars featuring antipasto, vegetarian entrees, soups and salads; a hot food station where cooks prepare lunch and dinner specials daily; plus cold, prepared entrees and side dishes that customers can take home and heat for a quick but still fresh and home-style meal.
And while selections vary by season, demand is high year-round, says Foley.
“We have a greater focus on side dishes at Thanksgiving, and at Christmas we have more appetizers,” Foley says. “And there are seasonal shifts—now things like hot foods and the soup bar are really taking off; in the spring and summer we sell more salads and sandwiches. We adjust the offerings accordingly, but we always keep the core of what we do.”
Among the core products are Central Market’s rotisserie chicken, wheat-free meatloaf paired with mashed potatoes and garlic string beans, chicken Parmesan, Asian chicken kebabs, and the popular inihaw—a Filipino marinated pork kabob featuring garlic, soy sauce, coconut vinegar, brown sugar and pineapple juice.
In addition, the store’s Culinary Resource Center hosts cooking demonstrations and offers recipes developed by the culinary staff along with product samplings.
FMI honors home meal solutions
Underscoring the important role that the home meal solutions category now plays, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) recognized three companies during its Gold Plate Awards presentation at the 2014 FMI Connect for creating food retail programs that promote family meals.
First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis, Ore., was honored for its Budget Bites program that offers customers a simple-to-follow weekly menu plan, shopping list and recipes for a family of two adults, all under $50 per week.
Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets won for its Healthy Bites initiative that includes a company-wide, comprehensive, multimedia program of meal solutions, recipes and healthy eating advice centered on a 16-page, fully customized magazine available in print and online.
And Publix, based in Lakeland, Fla., garnered honors for its Aprons Simple Meals program that features new weekly meal ideas specifically developed to simplify planning, preparation and cleanup. Customers can access the ideas through multimedia channels including print circulars, online and in-store.
Promoting family meals
Try these tips from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) to encourage shoppers to think of your in-store deli as a year-round destination for dinners:
- Provide recipe cards in the meat, fish and deli departments featuring 20 Easy Dinner Recipes, 20-Minute Meals, 5-Ingredient Meals, and Easy Kid-Pleasing Recipes.
- Ask customers to submit main entree or side dish recipes to your prepared foods department. Pick a weekly or monthly winner, offer a recipe card and display a picture of the winner.
- Put out recipe cards for customers showing them how to cook once and eat twice. One display can feature a main dish and several side dishes so customers can quickly and easily plan multiple family meals.
- Set up a display for Family Sub Night and promote deli items that make up popular sandwich combinations. Encourage families to build their subs as a family activity.