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    Younger Shoppers Making Deli’s Future Bright

    Millennials drawn to retail meal solutions; sushi for independent grocers

    Consumer eating trends bode well for in-store deli and prepared foods.

    That’s according to research presented by some of the speakers at the 2014 Annual Meat Conference, held this past week in Atlanta.

    Barbara Ford of Acosta Sales and Marketing trumpeted the emergence of “grocerants” – the growing trend of restaurant-style foodservice operations at grocery stores that have been giving quick-casual dining establishments a run for their money. In particular, the trend is being embraced by the coveted Millennial shoppers, who, along with Generation X’ers, are more likely than older consumers to purchase prepared foods and foodservice meal solutions at the supermarket.

    “Millennials are way ahead of total shoppers on this,” Ford said.

    Deli patronage is mixed among economic brackets, with lower-income shoppers less likely to shop the in-store deli and higher-income shoppers more likely to do so, including the purchase of ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat items.

    Jack Li of Datassential heralded the arrival of what he called “Deli 2.0,” the deli’s next generation, as it were, incorporating more restaurant-style products and services. “We see it growing," Li said.

    As such, supermarket deli operations would be wise to closely watch the latest flavor trends that Li said are on the rise, among them:

    - Peruvian: In its early stages at fine-dining establishments
    - Korean: Building steam
    - Thai, Indian: Staging a comeback
    - Mediterranean, Southern: Cementing their popularity

    If You Knew Sushi …

    Meanwhile, as the big grocery chains devote resources to keep up with the latest trends in their deli and prepared food departments, smaller chains and independent players are often at a disadvantage to keep up.

    Operations with 10 or fewer stores – especially single-store owners – often don’t have the money and the momentum to outfit their delis with brick pizza ovens, sushi bars and other trendy amenities that popular chains like Wegmans, HEB, Hy-Vee and Mariano’s have become known for in their respective markets.

    But as I roamed the trade show floor at the recent National Grocers Association Show in Las Vegas, I noticed quite a few vendors focusing their marketing efforts on independent grocers, to help these smaller players more easily bring some of these services to shoppers in their markets and maybe give them an edge over their bigger competitors.

    Pizza and barbecue were among the vendors, but this year there was an unexpected contender: sushi. There were several suppliers at NGA this year offering turnkey sushi bar solutions for retailers.

    For example, Houston-based Sushic specializes in “creating and supporting dedicated and profitable food service operations within retail establishments.”

    With a menu that includes rolls, pot stickers and bento boxes, Sushic currently operates sushi bar kiosks in 16 universities throughout the United States, including Baylor, Southern Methodist University and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and is now actively courting retail grocers.

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