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    Catering to compete: Create a new revenue stream for the holidays and beyond

    Catering to compete: Create a new revenue stream for the holidays and beyond.

    This holiday season, the deli, floral and catering pros at Tom’s Market in Rhode Island are collaborating to create memorable family meals and events for a multitude of shoppers.

    The Tom’s Market Catering division, headquartered in Newport, will likely handle more than 100 events from the end of November through the end of December, predicts Glenn Place, a partner in the independent mom-and-pop grocery chain that operates three stores in Coventry, Warren and Tiverton, R.I. 

    “All of our stores are decorated for the holidays, and our departments present a cohesive look throughout the market,” Place says. “Everyone gets a tour of the entire market before sitting down to discuss their event. This helps to set the stage and allows us to present ideas to them. Because we have the market directly associated with the catering division, options are as endless as their imagination.”

    The Christmas catering menu that debuted in early December includes two new featured items—a rubbed sirloin roast with balsamic demi-glace, and a honey mustard and brown sugar glazed boneless carving ham—as well as Tom’s usual prime rib roasts, hams, crown roasts of pork, beef tenderloins and veal roasts.

    An interesting twist this holiday season, Place notes, is the kinds of dishes that are trending with catering customers.

    “This Thanksgiving we did a tremendous amount of business in items people normally would make themselves—mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. People are pressed for time or maybe lack the skills that weren’t necessarily passed down from their moms and grandmothers,” he reports. 

    Supermarket catering evolves

    The change in holiday orders that Place describes is indicative of the overall evolution impacting the catering category. As the line between retail and restaurant foodservice continues to blur, catering is playing a more prominent role for grocers seeking to compete with both other supermarkets and the restaurant down the street.

    “It is really a revolution how far catering has come,” Place says. “Ten years ago, it was mostly corporate events, weddings and cocktail parties. But the industry has changed. We are really competing with restaurants, so we have to do restaurant-quality food in the market. Prepared foods and catering now go hand-in-hand. If we do [a chicken entree] for 100 people for a catered event, it doesn’t take that much to make an extra 20 pounds for our prepared foods case.”

    Demographics drive sales

    While consumers from myriad demographic groups have contributed to catering’s rise, one segment is currently making a major impact: millennials, generally described as young adults between the ages of 18 and 33.

    “I’ve done a lot of research into millennials’ shopping habits—that is one of our target demographic groups—and there is a fine balance between their personal time and the time they want to spend cooking,” Place says. “Now, if [someone from that group] decides to have 15 to 20 friends over, they’ll order deli platters, grilled vegetables, chicken marsala and brownies because they would rather spend their time with their friends than in the kitchen.”

    Those kinds of orders don’t come only—or even predominantly—during the holiday season. 

    “Catering has become more of an everyday option instead of just for special events,” Place says. 

    While not every grocery retailer can take on catering as comprehensively as Tom’s Market has, testing the catering waters—and collaborating with other departments throughout the store to assist in the process—can boost sales and deliver a competitive advantage.

    “As our departments benefit from working together seamlessly to cross-merchandise with each other and with our catering division . . . in the end, it means more sales, better-looking displays, better profits and a better representation of our philosophy towards fresh foods and catered events,” says Place.

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