Retailers Continue to Improve Prepared Food Programs

Retailers Continue to Improve Prepared Food Programs

Several retailers are taking their top performing prepared food programs into the New Year with tweaks, add-ons and expansions.

In different regions of the country, supermarket retailers told SN their foodservice programs held up well this past year, and they’re looking forward to a successful year ahead. Some have chalked up double-digit increases in sales.

Most attributed their foodservice success to paying attention to what customers want. That, they said, includes variety, convenience, freshness, readily available snack-type foods, sometimes breakfast and sometimes local appeal.

“Breakfast continues to be a strong area in all our [upscale] Market Street locations. Our breakfast offerings are quite extensive, but we continue to look at new items,” said Chris Wilson, corporate chef for United Supermarkets [4]. The program is being rolled out to additional stores.

“We have quite an extensive breakfast menu at many of our core [United banner] stores already.”

About a year ago, breakfast sales at the 50-unit, Lubbock Texas-based chain had climbed 25% from the previous year, Diane Earl, business director of deli-foodservice, said then.

Meanwhile, also at United, the company’s three drive-through Taste of Market Street concepts continue to do well, especially with breakfast and afternoon snacks, officials said.

Lamb’s Thriftway recently upgraded the display case for its front-of-store grill.

Snacks are becoming popular at all venues, according to a just-published report from The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. That is proving true in retail foodservice as well. Last week, United’s Earl said that, “we have had great luck with our new snack packs, in four varieties. They are ‘fresh lunchables.’ We have one with turkey cubes, two with chicken salad and one is Mediterranean with hummus, grapes and dolmas.” Earl also stressed the importance of variety.  “We will be changing our seasonal menu twice a year from now on — spring/summer and fall/winter.”

Ethnic items have become a boon to more retailers. They offer not only variety but, in many cases, a very nutritious option. Such is the case at with a new concept at Kowalski’s Markets, St. Paul, Minn.

Ethnic items and total ethnic programs have keep customers’ interest up at Kowalski’s. A just-launched Vietnamese take-out program that is built around nutritious soups is getting good reviews from customers, said Terri Bennis, vice president, fresh foods.

Kowalski’s is known for listening closely to what customers want. One of its most popular programs and one that’s headed into the New Year with at least 24 varieties on its menu is its panini program. It’s quick and it sends a “fresh” message.

At Publix Super Markets [5], Lakeland Fla., spokesperson Dwaine Stevens said the prepared food section at Publix’s stores continues to grow as well. “As families’ and individuals’ demands continue to be paramount, we respond by increasing product mix and enhancements,” Stevens added.

All the staple parts of the chain’s prepared food programs continue to grow, Stevens said, including its long-time successful sub sandwich program, which is continually tweaked and expanded.

Publix, too, has cultivated ethnic offerings.

“Some [Publix] locations have restaurant themed food stations like Asian, Italian, etc. We project these product offerings will continue to be a important part of our product mix well into 2012,” Stevens said.

“We introduced the concepts about four years ago at a prototype store. As we learned more about the concepts, we were able use different themes in different stores throughout our five-state footprint and in our Publix GreenWise prototype stores.”

Focused on freshness, Lamb’s Thriftway learned as it went along with its recently developed, attention-grabbing barbecue grill.

Among the tweaks the company made to the program during the past year, “the biggest success we had was to shut the grill down entirely between 2 and 4 in the afternoon,” said John Gibson, meat manager at Lamb’s Palisades, Ore., store.  “We had an immediate increase in sales — even though it was at least an hour and a half” that the grill was closed each day.

Customers learned they couldn’t get what they wanted any time of the day, but they also learned that everything was freshly grilled, Gibson pointed out. “I would recommend to any retailer doing cooking to close down and then have a completely new menu for dinner.”

That change was made just about a year ago and then, “during this past year, we upgraded with a new, longer display case with tiered shelves,” Gibson said.

Owner of the five-unit Lamb’s Thriftway Bob Lamb intends to continue making his successful barbecue grills better and better, because he sees them standing Lamb’s apart in a very competitive market, he told SN in an earlier interview.