Families too busy to prepare home-cooked meals every evening often rely on takeout to put food on the table in a hurry. Trend watchers say that an interest in variety and health is expanding this segment of the food industry beyond pizza and fried chicken and even beyond other restaurant takeout options.
Restaurant Business online magazine reports that the trend toward new quick and convenient meal options is on the rise, especially among busy young professionals who may find themselves with long work hours, long commutes and family members involved in a wide variety of school and community activities. “Forecasters believe this trend has no place to go but up in 2017, as more concepts emerge to satisfy demand and tech advancements make it ever more possible,” Restaurant Business states.
While the practice of picking up food for some family meals rather than preparing them from scratch in the kitchen isn’t new, the options in terms of types of meals available and where they can be sourced has changed greatly, according to Technomic, a more than 45-year-old research and consulting firm that focuses on the food industry.
Calling grab-and-go “a small but increasingly important strategy,” Technomic describes the trend as “characterized by pre-packaged, ready-to-eat prepared food offered for sale from either a self-service heated or chilled merchandiser with little or no customer preparation required.” The research company notes that “while [takeout options] were once regarded as second-class meal offerings, almost every segment of the foodservice industry has taken notice of this growing trend.”
“Despite its geneses in restaurants, [grab-and-go] programs have flourished in the beyond restaurants segment, dominated by supermarkets and convenience stores. There is healthy competition in the market and portable packaging, diversity of flavors, ethnic selections, and healthy alternatives all play a role in the fight for market share,” Technomic states.
The research company found that within the $12.9 billion beyond restaurant grab-and-go market, the largest category is grocery stores, which claim approximately $2.9 billion of that total.
Publix supermarkets, for example, offer customers the option of choosing ingredients to be enclosed in a special bag. At home, the customer follows cooking instructions for a completed meal in approximately 20 minutes.
It’s an example of what Technomic calls “bite-sized autonomy,” which “gives customers an opportunity to build a hearty meal with a variety of flavors, textures, and degrees of healthy choices.
It’s a mix-and-match style that makes for exciting meals on the go.”
Fresh Market, a specialty grocery retailer that focuses on locally sourced products, in 2014 introduced its Little Big Meal program as a grab-and-go alternative to preparing a home-cooked meal.
“Fresh, delicious food has always been our focus, and Little Big Meals offers just that at your fingertips,” explained Nora Nelson, store manager of Fresh Market’s Briarcliff location.
“We have a team of foodies that work to create new and interesting meals for our customers each week, and we also make sure to feature some of our customers’ favorite meals throughout each month,” Nelson continued.
She said the featured meals change each week. “The meal includes ingredients for the main dish. We always make suggestions for additional options to go with the meal, including sides and dessert.”
Nelson said the program has been well received. “We regularly talk with our customers to understand what they enjoy about shopping at The Fresh Market, and one of the things they love most is Little Big Meals. They’ve told us how much they love the convenience of being able to pick up a meal when it works for their schedule, and how easy it is to quickly gather the ingredients to prepare a home-cooked meal.”
Little Big Meals, Nelson said, are “designed with the family in mind,” adding, “The Fresh Market provides the DeKalb community with hand-picked ingredients to create a delicious meal… that will feed a family of four.” She added that shoppers like knowing exactly what ingredients are in each meal.
Nelson said Fresh Market is continually looking at ways to improve the program, “We are always talking to our customers and listening to their feedback. This is an ongoing dialogue.”
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