CHICAGO — Technomic Inc., a consulting and marketing firm that works with the food-service industry, will launch a study of supermarket meals programs this spring, partly in an effort to determine how restaurant and food-service suppliers could be more effective at meeting the needs of today's growing high-quality prepared foods departments.
Crowded by competition from various venues on all sides, retailers are taking a close look at their meal solutions programs with an eye toward updating them. (See “Better Yet,” SN, Jan. 3, 2007.)
They're recognizing that offering enticing meals represents an opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors, and consequently they're turning their attention to higher quality, ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat options, said Technomic researchers.
“As part of our research process, we will be speaking to both headquarters and store-level retailers, with the purpose of gaining firsthand insights into their retail meal solution platforms,” Alan Hyatt, Technomic vice president, told SN. “It's too early to say, but we have one hypothesis that says certain retailers are seeing retail meal solutions as an emerging gold mine — with sales growth, profit growth and customer satisfaction.”
In their upgrading, retailers are expanding their product mix to reflect the same trends shaping restaurant menus, such as high-end ethnic choices, use of premium ingredients, customization and updated preparation techniques, the Technomic team pointed out. And they believe many of these modifications to retailers' product mixes could be met by food-service manufacturers and distributors, in addition to the training and support that could be part of such a partnership, they said.
Other industry sources also see food-service suppliers potentially filling a need. “The need for home meal replacement never went away. It's just that a lot of supermarkets couldn't serve the demand profitably,” said Neil Stern, senior partner, McMillan Doolittle, Chicago.
“They've learned what consumers want to buy,” he said. “Now, I think the No. 1 issue is where this is coming from. More suppliers are stepping up and working with retailers. Suppliers are seeing this as a big opportunity.”
The Technomic study, “Retail Meal Solutions: A New & Growing Opportunity for Foodservice Manufacturers,” will be launched this spring, and results are expected to be available this summer.