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The National Restaurant Show is always great fun. You get to see and sample all of the latest dining trends — like vegan, gluten-free and sriracha, among others — that ultimately show up at the supermarket.
But what I found particularly interesting were several concepts targeted at restaurateurs that grocery stores could easily incorporate. In fact, as I walked the show floor at McCormick Place here in Chicago, I found myself tweeting about these ideas in what developed into what I called my “Why Can’t Grocers …” series.
For instance, why can’t grocers list their in-store dining on websites like GrubHub? True, this site and related smartphone app are aimed primarily at food delivery. But you get the idea: to be listed among traditional eateries, on a site like this or others, as grocers’ restaurant-quality food gains credibility — the exposure would be invaluable. And why can’t grocers deliver prepared meals to your home?
Food trucks are all the rage in major markets; there are at least three that stop at PG’s Deerfield, Ill., headquarters building on a rotating basis. Why can’t grocers operate food trucks? Park them at community events to boost visibility for deli and prepared foods. And maybe it’s a more versatile way, short of more costly brick and mortar, to start irrigating some of those urban food deserts.
Why can’t grocery stores have their own microbreweries? At the NRA Show, Nevada-based Global Beer Co. displayed HouseBrew, its self-contained mini microbrewery system that can brew 500 liters of craft beer a week. It’s compact and designed so you don’t need a schooled brewmaster to run it. Local alcohol laws might be the only obstacle. Beyond the trendy beer caves we’re seeing in stores now, this is the next frontier for beer and spirits in the grocery channel.
How about fresh herbs and microgreens grown on site? Rouses in New Orleans already does it in a rooftop hydroponic garden. Don’t have that kind of space? British Columbia-based Urban Cultivator markets an indoor cabinet system for home or restaurant use that could easily find a place in your produce section.
There’s no reason that grocers can’t do any of these things to further elevate the customer experience. Progressive grocers — among them, our Top Women in Grocery winners — know anything is possible.