NGA Show 2023: Fresh & Prepared Foods Here to Stay

At the recent NGA Show, experts discussed how retailers can continue growing in the fresh and prepared food categories.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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NGA show 2023 fresh panel

The National Grocers Association's recent NGA Show 2023 in Las Vegas featured a variety of panels and discussions, including how to innovate and attract consumers to the perimeter of the grocery store.

In a panel discussion hosted by Ari Goldsmith, VP of Marketing & Digital Media at KeHE Distributors, Amber Hammond, executive director of Sales at KeHe, Michael Tyson, Chief marketing & merchandising officer at Indiana Grocery Group, and Mindy Rich, VP of Data Analytics at Associated Food Stores Inc., discussed what’s trending in the fresh and prepared food categories.

Hammond said that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when prepared food sectors temporarily closed, KeHE’s retail partners looked for ways to fill that store space, with pre-sliced deli meat as an example. Now, she added that the challenge is driving innovation in the section.

“Now, we’re seeing that we need to drive innovation through our mixes, reduce labor, and bring the customers in with things they connect with,” said Hammond. “Things like diverse-trade, what is the brand about… people want to learn more and more about the brands that they are buying.”

Tyson added that at his company’s stores in the Midwest, convenient and ready-to-go options are seeing success.

prepared foods

“We’re focusing on prepared meals and ‘recipe ready’ ideas to help customers plan meals,” said Tyson. “Another idea out there is portion control. We’re testinging ‘perfect portion’ prepared meals: 5-6 ounces of protein, a cup of carbohydrates and a cup of vegetables. We need to keep innovating in fresh to continue to put pressure on mass [retailers].”

“Consumers are still looking for things that are ‘grab & go’, quick and easy,” said Rich. “Consumers still want a good value, people are really watching what they spend. But they also want that convenience and quality factor. There’s opportunity there, just like sliced meats had staying power, convenience is likely here to stay because that’s what people are looking for now. I’ve heard the statistic that 60% of people don’t know what they’re going to have for dinner that night when they walk in the store.”

Rich added that expanding in the prepared food sector comes with challenges, as some independent retailers don’t have the equipment or labor power to keep up with competitors. 

“The challenge is that it puts a new strain on retail locations,” she said. “Something that our team has done to combat that is that we’ve partnered with a local company that has some synergies from a capability perspective. They’re taking some items that we have, and they can produce them in larger batches.”

Rich also noted that partnering with outside companies can allow retailers to redirect labor on prepared items such as cut fruit and sandwiches that have a shorter shelf life.