Convenience, It’s What’s For Dinner Tonight: 2014 Brings a Fresh Take on Making Meals With Ease

Convenience, It’s What’s For Dinner Tonight: 2014 Brings a Fresh Take on Making Meals With Ease

With this January’s snow and cold, many Americans are warming up with hot home-made meals. But while consumers are more engaged with food than ever, many have less time for planning and preparing home cooked meals. Shoppers are increasingly opting for easy meals—but we don’t mean TV dinners. Growing hunger for convenience—a broad and evolving need—will continue to affect the entire store in 2014.

Shopping For Convenience in Grocery and Beyond

The idea of planning and eating three square meals a day is a thing of the past for many consumers. Many shoppers plan meals just hours in advance, seeking fast solutions and sometimes replacing meals altogether with snacks. This evolving demand contributes to channel blurring and often drives retailers into direct competition with foodservice.

Across the retail landscape, the rise of convenience is shifting channel shares. Value and convenience channels continue to win shoppers and capture strong retail channel growth. While the grocery channel has a significant advantage over other channels in terms of shopping frequency, its share has declined. In 2012, the average household made 56 trips to the grocery channel—16 fewer trips than in 2001. Value channels, including supercenters, dollar stores and warehouses are picking up the slack, each seeing shopper trips increase compared to 2001. Many grocery retailers are striving to recapture fill-in trips by catering to time-strapped consumers with a variety of fresh options.

Leveraging the deli to capture sales from the foodservice channel is not a new concept to supermarkets, and deli prepared food sales have kicked into overdrive across retail channels in recent years. Many retailers are overhauling their formats to offer foodservice-like atmospheres and services for a variety of eating occasions. For example, the number of unique deli breakfast food items sold increased by 13.6 percent in 2013. And in 2013, each of the 15 prepared deli categories, which serve foods for a various meals, increased both dollar and volume sales, some by double digits.

Changing Consumption Patterns Drive Demand

“Assembling” but not fully preparing meals is a popular trend among a growing number of shoppers who want to be involved with food preparation but also have much of the work done for them. Not surprisingly, these shoppers gravitate toward meals with premade or value-added elements, and this need can be leveraged across the entire store.

For some shoppers, “assembling” a meal begins with the entree, which helped boost prepared meat sales in 2013 (year to date through Nov. 30, 2013). Fully-cooked beef and pork outpaced their fresh counterparts’ dollar and volume growth during this period, and dollar and volume sales for fully cooked beef patties increased a remarkable 89 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

Growth in prepared entrees isn’t limited to the meat department. Dollar and volume sales for prepared fish increased 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in 2013. Prepared deli entree offerings (including prepared beef, ham, vegetable and Mexican entrees) also continue to expand, with the number of unique items sold up 11 percent compared to the prior year.

Prepared Meal Components On the Rise

Deli Prepared Appetizers/Sides Dollar Growth Compared to the Previous Year Volume Growth Compared to the Previous Year
Deli Dips/ Spreads/ Toppings 16% 16%
Deli Sides 10% 8%
Deli Soups 11% 7%
Deli Appetizers 9% 6%
Deli Desserts 7% 5%
Source: Nielsen

Retailers are including departments across the store to help build out the rest of the plate. Deli prepared options continue to expand as consumers opt to piece together their meals—the number of unique items sold in store for deli prepared salads and sides each increased by more than 10 percent in 2013. In the produce department, meal components requiring minimal preparation, including salad kits and value-added vegetable side dishes, are also gaining popularity. In 2013, vegetable side dishes increased dollar sales 16 percent and salad kits jumped 26 percent from the previous year. These convenient produce options fit the “semi-prepared” bill for consumers that want to feel involved with food prep, however limited. Similar offerings are also gaining traction in the bakery department. Take-and-bake or assemble-at-home bakery products are direct attempts to draw the bakery away from being a “celebration” or “occasion” department into everyday eating.

Consumers aren’t limiting their move toward “assembling” meals to a specific part of the store, and retailers need to meet their changing choices to stay ahead. In 2014, meal deals and cross-department promotions will be key for retailers and fresh and center-aisle manufacturers looking to capitalize on the shopper demand for convenient “almost homemade” meals.

Shoppers are also supplementing meals with snacks, or replacing them altogether. Here, grocery offers a competitive edge over foodservice, with a variety of convenient and healthy snacking options. In 2013, the number of unique deli prepared snack items increased 9 percent. In the produce department, products like snacking vegetables and fresh-cut fruit increased their offerings by nearly 20 percent each. Cross-store merchandising with items from fresh and center-store aisles to frame the consumer mindset for “snack meals” could be an effective way to capture sales from this growing consumer trend in 2014.

Feeding this Eating Evolution

So, how do you engage the convenience shopper walking the aisles without a shopping list? For starters, try to change with consumers’ shifting consumption patterns: move the focus from winning stock-up trips to winning meal occasions (whether it’s a cook from scratch, semi-homemade or fully prepared). In-store merchandising by eating occasion can help frame the shopper mindset by offering total meal solutions. Framing meal solutions for shoppers through merchandising also provides an opportunity to cross department boundaries and drive sales for products across the store. Grabbing the attention of short-on-time shoppers also means convenient options should be conveniently located. Merchandising snacks or meal solutions at the front of the store can make convenience shopping even easier.