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Today’s consumers are driven by the need to maximize time and effort in all aspects of their lives, and mealtime is no different. Many consumers plan meals just hours in advance, so the quicker and easier the meal solution the better.
That attitudinal shift regarding mealtime helps explain why U.S. consumers are using fewer dishes and ingredients for meal preparation, according to new research from The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based global information company.
“One of the great ways consumers can get time back from spending it in the kitchen is to make fewer dishes,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group. “This isn’t anything new. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a lot with one-dish dinners. Anything like pizza, sandwiches, salads, soups—they are all options that the consumer uses to quickly get something onto the table without having to do a ton of extra work and save time in the kitchen.”
The NPD Group’s food consumption research found that dinner has experienced the greatest reduction in dishes and ingredients. Moreover, the overall number of food and beverage occasions consumed by the average American is flat.
At dinnertime, fresh is best
If quick-fix dinners offering great taste, freshness and good nutrition are what consumers ultimately crave, Seifer noted that opportunities are endless for deli and prepared food departments.
“It’s the perfect intercept point because consumers are already in the store looking for their other food items, and there is also an overall trend toward fresh,” he said. “Consumers have been using more fresh fruits and more fresh vegetables, and the growth lies in the perimeter of the store. What the deli department can do is say, ‘Hey we know that you want more fresh, so let us give that to you and also take the work out of it.’”
Seifer added that the desire for convenient meals is particularly strong with discerning millennial consumers who demand more than just a fast meal on the table. “When we look at millennials, to them the notion of convenience is getting out of the kitchen quickly but they also really want those items to be fresh. In a lot of ways, millennial consumers are really driving growth in the fresh prepared area.”
Confirming that fresh prepared is the fastest-growing perimeter department of the store, Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. reported that the category represented $10.8 billion in sales in 2015, up almost 10 percent over the year prior. Moreover, entrees alone accounted for almost $4 billion in fresh prepared sales, up 10 percent from a year prior, according to IRI.
Endless varieties add to excitement
A leader in prepared foods, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets is well-known for its Market Café, which features countless prepared fresh options from sushi, sandwiches, soups, pizzas and salads to hot bars with international, freshly made dishes to satisfy consumers’ dinner cravings.
Wegmans’ freshly made, packaged-to-go items, available any time of day, also include Family Pack entrees and single-meal Asian bowls and pasta bowls. Family Pack entrees are offered in varieties such as Wegmans’ Macaroni and Cheese; Penne with Seasoned Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella; Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti; Penne Alfredo with Chicken and Peas; BBQ Pulled Pork; and Chicken and Mexican Cheese Quesadillas.
Meanwhile, smaller retailers like Wisconsin-based Festival Foods are also capitalizing on the prepared food craze by helping consumers get dinner on the table fast with fresh, variety-packed meal options. The retailer offers heat-and-eat Dine at Home Deli items prepared fresh daily, as well as Daily Deli Deals such as Amore Monday Lasagna Night, which features four pieces of freshly made lasagna and a loaf of Italian bread for $10; 6 Buck Cluck, rotisserie-style chickens for $6 each; Thursday Family Rib Night, which includes full back St. Louis style pork spare ribs for $10 a rack; and Prime Rib Saturday with restaurant-style prime rib for just $10 per pound.
In addition, Festival Foods’ Hot Bar includes grab-and-go dishes outlined on the company’s website to give consumers an entire week’s worth of meal options. Besides everyday selections like rotisserie, baked and fried chicken, dinner choices include various entrees and side dishes categorized under the themes of BBQ Monday, Taco Tuesday, Stir Fry Wednesday, Italian Thursday, Supper Club Friday and Comfort Days.