Grocery Industry Trends: An Evolving Dining Experience
Sweeping changes are unfolding in supermarkets all across the country as grocery industry trends spur innovation. Grocers have been rolling out curbside delivery, online ordering, drive up and go options, and rush delivery to capture the “make-my-life-easier” market segment. Meanwhile, supermarkets also are launching their versions of healthy pre-packaged, heat n’ go meals using a wide variety of ethnic cuisines to address the rise of meal kit delivery services like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Plated, and many others that have eaten into their profits; the rise of grocery delivery and pre-packaged meal kit options runs parallel to off-premise restaurant dining.
You may have also noticed that in some areas, a mini quick-serve restaurant has made its debut within your grocery market’s four walls, complete with in-store seating. When market changes occur, businesses and their owners must adapt or die as the tide rises. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods signaled one of those inevitable changes that continue to have rippling effects today. Yes, your neighborhood community supermarket is an evolving commodity, and it’s only going to evolve more.
Click and Collect
Some of the changes we see today have roots in the past. In the first half of the 20th century, we shopped for food by making a list and then handing the list of items over to a clerk. The clerk would gather everything for us. A century later, we’re back to doing something very similar. Many Americans now go online, select the groceries they need, then turn their list in with a click of the button. Then, a grocery attendant gathers the items and readies the groceries for curbside pickup or delivery.
Online grocery sales are expected to reach $100 billion by 2025, according to the Food Marketing Institute. For perspective, that is about 20 percent of the retail grocery market. Considering that current online grocery shopping volume comes in around 2 to 4 percent, the projected increase is staggering. No wonder supermarkets are addressing our changing preferences for how we want to shop for groceries. It’s “do or die” time in the grocery aisle.
Ready, Set, Grab and Go
Let’s say you aren’t one of the jet setters with little time to grocery shop. Nor are you a recent post-op patient with mobility issues, or a busy mom or dad with a schedule that rivals a popular band on a concert tour. Instead, you prefer the brick and mortar experience to online options. You like to squeeze your melons and choose your fresh cherries. Well, even your in-store experience is in flux.
Supermarkets have shifted their internal focus to provide complete, ready-to-eat, healthy meals in every variety, and flavor. Whether through their own branded meals, or partnerships with third-party product lines, pre-packaged dining is in significant demand, whether that be meal kits or pre-packaged meals. When you’re facing 30 to 60 minutes of meal preparation (considering you already have the ingredients on hand), it’s hard to pass up the open-refrigerated coolers filled with chef-prepared meals like Stuffed Atlantic Salmon with Asparagus, Roasted Spaghetti Squash with White Meat Chicken, or Spicy Maryland Crab Cakes.
These are NOT your grandma’s frozen Banquet or Swanson TV dinners with watered-down mashed potatoes. These kits draw specific diners who want healthier food options that are often more difficult to prepare and source. Operators who aren’t adapting to these grocery industry trends, preferences for health and wellness, combined with convenience, may soon find dwindling market share.
Sit and Stay Awhile
The retail food industry is also looking at other ways in which we interact with food and exploring their options. We’ve seen a rise in the mini-restaurant experience within the supermarket. Today, you may find a barbecue restaurant in one store and a sandwich and salad eatery in another. To illustrate just how customer-centric these mini-restaurants are, look at the number of grocers who are expressing interest in kitchen display systems (CSK) for their restaurants. To improve the customer experience from front-of-house (FOH) to back-of-house (BOH), the integrated technology that casual dining establishments use is now in demand by grocers with mini-restaurant facilities.
Trends have transformed the shopping experience in many of these locations. The grocery store is no longer and in-and-out event. It’s similar to Starbucks, where neighbors gather for wine tastings, a leisurely bite, and to hear live musical entertainment. Why make a special out of the way trip to a bar, when you can have the same experience at your grocery market, and pick up a gallon of milk before you head home?
Local, Local, Local
Two more grocery industry trends, one just rolling out this spring and another that continues to develop, should also be on your radar. If you are in the retail food industry or want to stay on top of the latest trends, these are ones to watch seriously.
- Self-driving grocery fleets— remote-controlled grocery stores on wheels may soon be driving down your street. An innovative grocery delivery company is testing its driverless grocery vehicles in Boston this spring. If all goes as planned, you may soon be screaming (for VEGGIES!) alongside your kids when they hear chimes from the ice cream truck.
- Local partnerships— Local food sourcing, popularized by comedy television series Portlandia in their “Colin the Chicken” sketch, has become mainstream. Today, we aren’t satisfied with eating food that’s packaged at some remote location weeks before it arrives in our town. Grocers respond by continuing to develop local partnerships to serve our desire for fresh food that is locally sourced.
The grocery retail industry is a massive one — now estimated at $800 billion. Understanding the food industry trends that will shape our shopping experience tomorrow isn’t easy. If we can look at health interests, current economics, and culture preferences, we can better pinpoint where we will see change, and what supermarkets will introduce to address those changes. These grocery industry trends will influence restaurant trends as off-premise dining and shopping experiences become more prevalent. Happy Shopping! — whether it’s in the aisles or from your computer.
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About the Author
Amber Mullaney provides and guides all things marketing for QSR. A proud Texan native, she graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Public Relations and spent her career in the healthcare industry before making the switch to QSR, saying she loves a good challenge. Amber has a long list of things she loves, including tacos (especially tacos), sweet tea, Texas, the outdoors, and traveling with her husband and two daughters.