The weak performance of many shelf-stable grocery categories in the past year reflects the impact of consumers’ return to sourcing meals from restaurants for more occasions after having cooked at home amid the pandemic.
Nearly all of the top grocery subcategories showed a decline in sales for the 52 weeks through April 17, including some that fell by double digits after an overall strong performance during the first year of the pandemic.
At SpartanNash, customers have been opting for products that make meal prep more convenient, reported Bennett Morgan, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer at the wholesaler/retailer.
“As people are spending more time outside of the home, we’re seeing a shift to convenient, easy-to-make meal solutions rather than individual items used for cooking from scratch,” he said. “On the other hand, when it comes to at-home baking, both mixes and from-scratch supplies both continue to perform well.”
Overall, however, IRI reports that sales of baking supplies have declined compared with a year ago, as have spices and seasonings, cold cereal and other items that had performed well a year ago. Baking supplies were down 12.1% for the year, compared with sales gains of 10.4% in the year-ago span.
Some meal-cooking supplies are also performing well for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash, Morgan said, citing mixes and products that make meal-prep easier, such as canned meat and dried pastas.
Still, inflationary pressures could help swing the pendulum back in favor of home cooking, and supermarkets have an opportunity to capitalize with the right merchandising strategies, according to Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive VP and practice leader of client insights at IRI.
Although consumers may be suffering some “cooking fatigue” from the pandemic, and prices are rising on many grocery items, retailers can still entice shoppers with fun and affordable at-home cooking and dining experiences, she noted.
“If retailers and manufacturers can collaborate and put product promotions together for different occasions, that might help,” Lyons Wyatt said. “It could be pizza night or taco night. If they promote those products together, and show that shoppers can still come [to the supermarket] and feed a family of four or five for less than going out, that message will resonate.”
Consumers, too, have felt a price crunch from restaurants, which could steer many back to the grocery store.
“We feel that we’re going to be turning a corner, because you now can’t even go to a quick-serve restaurant for an inexpensive meal,” Lyons Wyatt explained. “I think, for a lot of consumers, it is going to come down to, ‘What can I buy to feed my family as healthy a diet as possible for the least amount of money?’ They are going to be trying to figure that out.”
Morgan said SpartanNash seeks to encourage cooking at home as a family activity and as an outlet for creativity.
“Regardless of trends, we are always thrilled to support the next generation of home cooks and bakers by engaging families to make home cooking a fun event that includes everyone,” he said. “By encouraging our shoppers to take advantage of simple but creative moments in the kitchen, and creating an accessible path to cooking by offering easy-to-use seasoning blends or baking kits, we’re happy to inspire a new wave of at-home chefs.”