Working mothers are known for their ability to juggle multiple tasks, but perhaps their most significant accomplishment was the transformation of the modern supermarket.
As more and more women joined the work force in the 1960s and 1970s, the paradigm for meal preparation evolved from an hours-long, intensive process to something much more simple and time-constrained.
Consumer demand for products began shifting from basic ingredients to more products that had already been partially or fully prepared, and supermarkets began to rethink the way they merchandised their stores. It is a process that continues today as retailers strive to provide home-meal replacement solutions.
"Consumers are redefining home cooking," said Jon Hauptman, vice president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill. "That's a huge consumer trend over the past 25 years. What home cooking meant a generation or two ago is different than what it means today, and it had a dramatic impact on the products that we sell and how consumers shop.
"People still eat at home a lot, but they are looking to prepare their meals in 30 minutes or less," he said. "And, they want a way out of 'recipe rot.' They keep making the same things that are quick and easy, but they want a way around that, so there's a huge opportunity to provide products and services that appeal to these people, whether they are mixes or specialty products, sauces, and knowledge -- really cooking training."
Supermarket operators said they've adapted to changing demands for products that meet the needs of time-pressed consumers.
"If you look in today's supermarket vs. one of 25 years ago, depending on the chain, you'll see a lot more take-home products that are ready to eat," said Jim Toopes, president and chief executive officer, Big V Supermarkets, Florida, N.Y. "You see a larger variety of products that can be converted to ready-to-eat meals in 15-20 minutes. You see things like frozen potpies, etc., that can be easily cooked to cater to this lifestyle that we have evolved into.
In tandem with the increased demand for ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat meals, time-
pressed consumers also began to demand more convenience from their shopping experience. One-stop shopping became more and more important, and supermarkets responded by adding pharmacies and other full-service departments.
"When I started out, it was all these people doing service all over the store, then it went to just the basics in the '50s and '60s, and now it's back to all this service again in terms of bakeries, fish departments, delis and all these people interacting with customers," said Bob Tobin, the former chairman of Ahold USA.
Another trend Hauptman has seen that continues to affect supermarkets is an increased societal focus on younger consumers.
"Parents today appear to be more engaged and more invested in their children than ever before, they give their children more freedom than ever before."
This is reflected in supermarkets, he said, by the emergence of such services as children's shopping carts and kids' clubs, and other promotions geared directly toward children.
"The other big social trend is the changing face of U.S. demographics," Hauptman said. "The two fastest-growing demographic groups in America are Hispanics and Asians, and that has a huge impact on products and retailing."