Popularity of 'grocerants' sparking food safety concerns

The rise of "grocerants" — supermarkets offering prepared, restaurant-style foods — is translating into growing consumer concerns regarding food safety. Although the majority of U.S. consumers feel that foods in supermarkets are safe, the percentage who feel this way has decreased over the last 10 years as grocery stores have increased prepared food offerings, according to the NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based information company.

NPD, which has tracked food safety concerns in the United States since 2001, said that in 2006, 66 percent agreed with the statement that foods sold in supermarkets are safe. But in 2016 (through August), only 58 percent of adults agreed with that statement.

In-store dining and take out of prepared foods from grocers has grown nearly 30 percent since 2008, and accounted for 2.4 billion foodservice visits and $10 billion of consumer spending in 2015, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research. More than 40 percent of the U.S. population purchases prepared foods from grocery stores. Grocerants have even garnered the attention of the coveted millennials, who use grocery stores less often than other generational groups, but are increasing their use of prepared foods at supermarkets.

Historically, NPD Group’s Food Safety Monitor has shown that consumers have had a greater concern about the safety of foods served at restaurants than at supermarkets. However, the percentage of consumers who feel that foods served at restaurants are safe has remained, on average, between 47 and 49 percent since 2006, NPD said.

“Consumers typically rate grocery prepared foods higher on freshness and quality than quick-service restaurants, but more food handling issues and concerns come into play when foods are prepared for you,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at NPD Group. “They are now extending the concerns they have about the safety of foods served at restaurants to supermarkets. Since groceries are taking on more of the role of a restaurant, they are reaping the rewards — as well as the risks — that go with it.”