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Harry Balzer: Your retail store is a foodservice center

The mainstream media mantra with regards to food during the recent recession has been that consumers tend to eat out less and cook their own food more, but according to harry balzer, chief industry analyst and vice president of the NPD Group, the numbers don't bear that out.

"People say they are going out to eat less, say they no longer go out to lunch and carry their own lunch instead, but it isn't true," he says.

One example of this is the sandwich. The number one component of the typical bag lunch was included in 74 percent of lunches in 1974. The figure is 40 percent today. The reason? It takes too long for people to make a sandwich. Sure, by and large, bag lunches still include sandwiches, but Balzer notes that more lunches feature sandwiches made elsewhere, such as your supermarket. In fact, 98 percent of bag lunch sandwiches were made by hand in 1974. That has dropped to 90 percent of the already comparatively low number of bag lunches today.

"You'll never go wrong betting the over on people's laziness," Balzer quipped.

What about freshness? Consumers polled often say they don't make their own food because they can't guarantee everything sitting in their refirgerator sill be fresh, and they can't get to the store every day. But that isn't entirely accurate either. Today, 47 percent of people consider freshness to be extremely important. But 70 percent thought so in 1974. And in 1984, 9 percent of meals were frozen. That figure is 16 percent today. Consumer trends are relegating freshness to the back of the line in terms of buying motivations, regardless what people are saying.

The common news stories about people getting more creative with their cooking during a tough times don't paint an accurate picture. But fine dining establishments are hurting, and the restaurant industry is hurting-so what gives?

People are still eating out, their tastes and habits are too entrenched to start creative, fresh, at-home cooking programs to save money. What they are doing is eating out at the grocery store. They are going to the supermarket for their meals, but with convenience and cost being the ultimate two purchasing motivators, they are looking for ready-to-go, finished products.

"If you didn't think your retail operation was a foodservice operation," Balzer says, "Well, it is."