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    New Year, New Meal Ideas: Convenience is Key for Consumers in 2015

    New year, new meal ideas: Convenience is key for consumers in 2015.

    Last January, just after the 2013 holiday season, Nielsen predicted that shoppers’ “growing hunger for convenience—a broad and evolving need—would” affect the entire grocery store in 2014.

    In its report titled “Convenience, It’s What’s for Dinner Tonight: 2014 Brings a Fresh Take on Making Meals with Ease,” the company noted that today’s shoppers want to assemble but not fully prepare meals. They “want to be involved with food preparation but also to have much of the work done for them,” according to the report.

    Flash forward to 2015.

    Consumers’ interest in cooking and convenience is going strong. “Hand Touched Over Handmade,” for example, is No. 3 on the Food Network’s Top Ten Food Trends for 2015.

    “It’s no longer about making the recipe totally from scratch. Now, shortcuts are acceptable, and are part of the story,” according to the Food Network site. “What we’re seeing now is that while family recipes are still treasured hand-me-downs, they aren’t always complicated.”

    New research from The NPD Group calls the trend “the changing face of convenience”—a face that reflects consumers’ desire for easy-to-prepare meals with a fresh, modern twist.

    “Ever since the invention of the TV dinner, consumers have expressed a desire to get out of their kitchens in less time, but there is increasing evidence that convenience is being redefined and kitchens aren’t so bad after all,” says Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst at NPD.

    Frozen dinners and entrees once were acceptable for people craving a complete meal without the preparation time or kitchen clean-up, Seifer says. “But there’s rising evidence that consumers are shifting the meaning of convenience to include an element of freshness. We expect to see consumers use fresh ingredients in their foods in greater numbers; at the same time, they still seek ways to create these meals in a short amount of time,” he adds.

    Capture customers with creative merchandising

    “Convenience” can run the gamut from assembling a meal that begins with a prepared entree, to picking up salads and sides from the deli to complement a home-cooked main dish, to grabbing a take-and-bake dessert from the in-store bakery to round out an entire meal made at home.

    Retail delis can capitalize on shoppers’ desire for convenient, easy-to prepare, “almost homemade” meals in myriad ways:

    •  Offer fresh options and recipe ideas in-store.
    •  Merchandise by eating occasion.
    •  Provide total meal solutions that cross department boundaries.
    •  Cook by life stage. Think of creating “cook it together” packages and meals for two.

    The H-E-B chain of Texas supermarkets has already put similar ideas into practice. The company’s cooking coaches—many of whom have attended culinary schools or trained as chefs and worked in restaurants—are on hand in-store, preparing recipes and showing customers how to “get dinner on the table with minimal time and effort,” according to the company’s website. Shoppers who stop by the Cooking Connection section at each H-E-B store can sample dishes being prepared on-site, then pick up recipe cards and the products needed to make the simple-to-prepare dish at home.

    The company also features Cooking Connection Quick and Easy recipes online, along with videos showcasing “Chef Jeffrey” making dishes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare, such as Silky Orange Shrimp with Walnuts (10 minutes to prepare, 5 minutes to cook); Red Jalapeño Crab Tostadas on fresh corn tortillas (30 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes to cook); and Artichoke Eggplant Parmesan with Pita Chips and Hummus (30 minutes to prepare, 20 minutes to cook). A quick click takes viewers to a printable version of the recipe.

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