Growing with grocery | Tapping into foodservice's hottest segments

Supermarket and convenience store foodservice are some of the fastest growing segments in the away-from-home food industry, signaling a bright future for food and beverage and equipment sales. But taking advantage of the growth means gaining a firm understanding the evolving needs of this exploding market.

The overall 2018 projected growth rate of 2.8 percent in supermarkets and c-stores is far above its counterparts in limited-service restaurants (up 0.8 percent) and non-commercial foodservice (up 1.7 percent), according to Datassential.

Foodservice sales in c-stores, including prepared foods and beverages, were the highest they have been in recent years, a trend backed up by VantagePoint’s recently completed in-depth study on current consumer trends, operator behaviors and outlook within food retail establishments.

Supermarkets and c-stores are moving quickly to meet consumers’ desire for fresh, restaurant-quality food at a more attractive price. Many supermarkets are going through a major facelift. Online ordering, on-site cafes and made-to-order service are becoming the norm.

Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee, for example, recently introduced or reimagined several of its in-store dining programs, including Hickory House Comfort Foods, a customized hibachi grill station, an Italian street-food concept with flatbreads and pita sandwiches, Cocina Mexicana serving Mexican fare, and Long Island Deli where pastrami and corned beef are cut in front of patrons.

C-stores also have moved from hot dog rollers to fresh foodservice programs — often equipped with touch-screen or online ordering since speed is still paramount in these locations. C-store chain Sheetz, with over 500 locations in six states, piloted a foot-traffic-reliant convenience store without gas pumps on the campus of West Virginia University in 2015. The company’s future as a food-first café has led to new openings near Penn State, Indiana University and other campuses.

These dedicated made-to-order stations, cafes or restaurants within the store bring with them restaurant-style amenities, which present numerous opportunities for manufacturers to capitalize on new store openings and re-designs applying this front-of-house theatre experience. Pizza ovens, versatile prep tables and cooking or frying equipment, undercounter refrigerators and dishwashers, and specialty cases represent some of the equipment needs. And on the culinary side, while chicken still reigns supreme in delis (rotisserie, fried), consumers are showing interest in a wide variety of offerings such as ethnic cuisine like sushi or stir fry and comfort foods like stroganoff, pot pie and meatloaf.

With so much growth happening — and increasingly high expectations from consumers about the quality of the food, atmosphere and experience — it’s critical for suppliers to have a sound understanding of the supermarkets and c-stores space and how to support their needs. What unique things have you experienced within the supermarket or c-store space? Let us know in the comments below.

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