DELIS SLIP IN PREPARED FOOD FIGHT: SURVEY

Supermarket delis are less popular prepared-food outlets today than they were a year ago, according to a new national survey conducted exclusively for Supermarket News by America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C.onducted last year just prior to FMI, 43.3% said they were shopping delis more, and 30.2% said less. Nor does this downward trend appear to have yet bottomed out. When asked if they planned

Supermarket delis are less popular prepared-food outlets today than they were a year ago, according to a new national survey conducted exclusively for Supermarket News by America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C.

onducted last year just prior to FMI, 43.3% said they were shopping delis more, and 30.2% said less. Nor does this downward trend appear to have yet bottomed out. When asked if they planned to shop delis for prepared foods more or less in the coming six months, one in five answered more, while nearly twice that number -- 37.2% -- predicted they would be shopping delis less.

One potential bright spot for deli operations came when shoppers were asked if, during the next six months, they would shop a supermarket deli or a fast food restaurant for take-out prepared dinner for their family. One out of three chose the deli-prepared food over fast food.

"Supermarket delis may not yet be winning the battle against fast food restaurants, but a one-third share is a strong position," said Britt Beemer, chairman and founder of America's Research Group, commenting on that finding.

Only half that number -- one in six -- said they would be inclined to buy a family holiday

meal from a supermarket deli.

"The tradition of home cooking for the holidays is still very strong in America today," Beemer explained. "Most people continue to view cooking as an integral holiday ingredient."

Consumers are, however, accepting the change of adding nutrition information to labels on supermarket bakery products. Half those surveyed said they now read nutrition information on bakery items.

"Nutrition information has become an important buying consideration to a significant number of grocery shoppers," Beemer said.

Prepared produce items appear to be gaining ground with consumers also. When asked if they would have chosen a head of lettuce or precut lettuce a year ago, 15.2% said they would have selected the precut package. But when asked to predict which they would prefer during the coming six months, 21.7% chose the precut package.

One thousand consumers participated in the study this year, conducted March 10 to 12, 1995. It was the second annual national research project conducted by America's Research Group for Supermarket News.

How Consumers Responded

The deli is still struggling to establish itself as the place to go for prepared foods. Below are highlights from a survey of consumers exploring how their spending in the fresh food departments is changing.

ARE YOU BUYING MORE OR LESS PREPARED FOODS FROM THE DELI - SUCH AS ROAST CHICKEN - TODAY COMPARED WITH A YEAR AGO?

MORE 25.2% LESS 41.6% SAME 33.2%

DO YOU PLAN TO BUY MORE PREPARED FOODS IN DELIS IN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS THAN YOU HAVE IN THE PAST SIX MONTHS?

MORE 19.6% LESS 37.2% SAME 43.2%

IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE OF WHERE TO BUY TAKEOUT FOOD TO BRING HOME FOR YOUR FAMILY'S DINNER, IN THE NEXT 6 MONTHS WILL YOU PICK A FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT OR A SUPERMARKET DELI TO MAKE YOUR PURCHASE? FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT

DELI 65.7% DON'T KNOW 32.5% SAME 1.8%

WILL YOU CONSIDER BUYING A HOLIDAY MEAL, LIKE TURKEY WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, ALREADY PREPARED FROM YOUR SUPERMARKET DELI NEXT THANKSGIVING OR CHRISTMAS?

YES 15.3% NO 82.7% DON'T KNOW 2.0%

WHEN YOU GO INTO A SUPERMARKET BAKERY, WILL YOU START MAKING YOUR DECISIONS ABOUT WHAT YOU BUY BASED ON NUTRITION INFORMATION ON LABELS?

YES 49.5% NO 49.0% DON'T KNOW 1.5%

IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE BETWEEN BUYING A HEAD OF LETTUCE OR A BAG OF PREWASHED, PRECUT LETTUCE, WHICH ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO BUY IN THE NEXT 6 MONTHS?

HEAD OF LETTUCE 78.3% BAG OF PRECUT LETTUCE 21.7%

WHICH CHOICE WOULD YOU HAVE MADE A YEAR AGO?

HEAD OF LETTUCE 84.8% BAG OF PRECUT LETTUCE 15.2%

Supermarket delis may be having trouble trying to build their equity as a popular destination for fresh prepared foods. A consumer survey conducted for SN indicated supermarket food service is losing ground to other prepared food options.

ARE YOU BUYING MORE OR LESS PREPARED FOODS AT SUPERMARKET DELIS THAN YOU WERE A YEAR AGO?

MORE 25.2%

LESS 41.6%

SAME 33.2%