Industry News

Grocers innovate to make life easier for home cooks

Cooking at home more often has become a reality for households across the country. While many consumers were forced to prepare more meals at home due to early pandemic restaurant restrictions, others took home cooking to new levels by making everything from sourdough bread to whipped coffee and handmade pasta.

After eight months of playing the role of home chef, however, fatigue is setting in for many. In fact, 65% of consumers admitted they are tired of cooking at home, according to Datassential research. While this may be the case, McCormick CEO Lawrence Kurzius and others believe increased home cooking will continue even after the pandemic subsides. “This has really become a trend that’s becoming a habit,” Kurzius told CNBC.

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen agrees the trend will be a lasting one, explaining to CNBC that families especially are enjoying cooking together at home. With the habit taking firm hold, especially in the cold winter months, grocers of all sizes are offering solutions to make it easier for consumers to prepare meals at home.

“We have seen a real influx of customers looking to diversify their family’s meal choices,” Hal Levitt of California-based Save Mart told Winsight Grocery Business. Save Mart’s culinary and foodservice teams have been working to offer new and interesting ready-to-eat prepared meals and ready-to-make offerings, Levitt said, including items like flash-frozen meals, protein-forward microwave meals and even meals prepared by chefs from local restaurants.

Albertsons recently rolled out its flash-frozen Open Nature Savory Skillet Meals line, which allows people to cook meals such as shrimp scampi with pasta, lobster tortellini and chicken tikka masala in a few minutes and using only one pan.

“We know that this year especially, busy families are craving more variety at dinner time, and our savory skillet solutions deliver,” said Senior Vice President of Own Brands Chad Coester in a news release. “While some of the staple flavors will always be available, we will continue to innovate and introduce new meals to help keep dinner new and fresh.”

Early on in the pandemic, Texas-based H-E-B launched a program to help customers easily purchase a restaurant-quality meal with also helping local restaurants weather the storm. The grocer partnered with eateries including San Antonio’s Max & Louie’s New York Diner and Houston’s Cherry Block, as well as many others.

Additionally, Kroger-owned Home Chef launched new product lines last month, including heat-and-eat soup and Sicilian-style pizza -- both of which are available at Kroger stores. The grocer also entered into a partnership with Whisk, a shoppable recipe platform that allows customers to order recipe ingredients directly from Kroger.

Taking it one step further, ShopRite recently cut the ribbon on concept stores within three of its locations in New York and New Jersey. The Fresh to Table format offers Prep & Eat, Grab & Eat, Heat & Eat and Tasty & Trending sections, each of which includes everything shoppers need to put together a meal or quick snack.

Pared down holiday meals are also emerging as a necessity for families and individuals who have chosen to partake in smaller gatherings. Smaller Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas hams, as well as individual side dish portions and ready-to-eat desserts, are important pieces of the puzzle.

For grocers looking to ramp up their own foodservice offerings, FMI’s recent Power of Foodservice at Retail report offers several suggestions. The report found that 70% of shoppers would be more willing to order retail foodservice if they could do so in advance, either via app, online or by phone, making it more important than ever to offer technology solutions in the space, as well as varied pickup options. Additionally, two-thirds of meals made at home use fully or semi-prepared items, pointing to an opportunity for retailers to lend a hand to home chefs through foodservice offerings.

Related stories:

_____________________________________

If you enjoyed this article, you can sign up for Consumer Brands SmartBrief or FMI dailyLead to get news like this in your inbox. For even more great news content, sign up for any of SmartBrief’s 275+ free email newsletters today, free.