RFI Summit: Pandemic fuels retail foodservice

Research delivered during the Retail Foodservice Innovation Summit shows consumers stuck at home, eat more at home, and grocers are taking advantage with exclusive foods.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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With more time at home during the pandemic, more Americans have adjusted to preparing and planning meals at home. This shift is allowing grocery chains to become more integral into consumers’ meal plans with hot and prepared items, according to speakers at the Retail Foodservice Innovation Summit, presented by Store Brands’ sister publication Progressive Grocer.

The trend is also fueling grocers to put more emphasis on its own brand, exclusive prepared foods or ready-to-heat meals.

The virtual event’s first presentation featured Rick Stein, VP of Fresh Food at FMI - The Food Industry Association and Steve Markenson, research director at FMI, who discussed changes to the retail foodservice space caused by the pandemic.

“The pandemic really prompted many meals to move from restaurant settings to at home meal occasions,” said Markenson. “As of June of 2021, Americans were preparing an average of 71% of their total meals at home. At the height of the pandemic that number was 87%; 59% say that they will see little or no change in their meal preparation in the future. They’ve learned new tricks and habits as a result of the pandemic.”

Of the 4.6 weekly dinners prepared at home, 55% are hybrid, meaning some of the meal is made from scratch while some items are semi or fully prepared from the store.

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Rick Stein

“Regardless of income, age, ethnicity or area that folks live in, the most common way of dinner preparation is hybrid,” said Markenson. “This provides an important opportunity for grocery foodservice items for the convenient approach of things. When shoppers are under time constraints, they are more likely to prepare a meal that takes little effort.” 

Retailers are beginning to see this shift in consumer behavior. Whole Foods recently expanded its prepared foodservice capabilities on its app, while Instacart recently announced it would expand its hot and cold meal delivery services

When shoppers in the FMI survey were asked what would get them to consider foodservice at retail, 89% of respondents named at least one amenity that would influence their decision to purchase grocery deli-prepared food vs. restaurant food. While 63% said the ability to order in advance, and 60% said an inside pickup station or drive-through pick up option would influence them.

“This idea that I can pick up parts of my meal that are either fully or partially prepared and then finish it at home with either items I’m going to cook from scratch or reheat is really resonating,” said Stein. “It allows them to have the convenience factor. Consumers are also buying food a few days in advance, that wasn’t the case in 2019. Today’s dinner could be a side dish tomorrow. They’re figuring it all out in order to make their lives more convenient.”

In December, Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at FMI, will virtually present findings from the association's Power of Private Brands report on how store brands are doing with e-commerce. The session kicks off the virtual pitch and educational event called Store Brands Discovery Day.