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The roadside pantry: Changing shopping habits present opportunities for food companies

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

It’s clear from watching grocery store trends that people do not shop the way they used to. They buy food all over the place now, from drive-up espresso stands to food trucks to food counters at warehouse clubs. In New York City, there are even restaurants that will deliver a breakfast of eggs and hash browns to drivers stuck in the morning rush. At The Hartman Group, we call this phenomenon of food being everywhere the “Roadside Pantry,” and it has created vast changes to the way consumers shop, cook and eat.

Shopping habits are evolving as people no longer make one shopping trip a week to a store that has most of what they want. In some ways, they are reverting to a time when shoppers used to make separate stops at the local bakery, butcher shop and other specialty vendors to collect what they needed for the week. Except that now it is happening all the time. Half of consumers visit two or more stores on each shopping trip.

It’s not that they’ve given up on stocking their cupboards. In fact, 47% say that the necessity for stocking up led them to shop in the first place. It’s just that a lot more can happen while they’re out: They make a list for the grocery store, then pop into a dollar store. Or they pass by a mass store and decide to go in because they have time while on the way to a club store.

Consumers also report that they often decide what they will eat for lunch or dinner shortly before they eat it. Parents sometimes find that, driving home from work in the evening, they do not feel like cooking what they had planned for dinner and stop instead for a pre-cooked meal at a nearby deli or fast-casual restaurant — or both, if they like the entrees at one place and side dishes at another.

The “Roadside Pantry” allows for that kind of flexibility and caters nicely to people’s busy schedules and changing plans. What it has not done as well as it could is offer the quality and variety that consumers want. If convenience stores and even many more grocery-store delis upped their game in the fresh-cooked department, consumers would respond in droves. People want food that tastes healthy and home-cooked; they just don’t necessarily want to cook it themselves.

Those growing needs explain the popularity of chains such as Chipotle, which The Hartman Group features in its new report, “Outlook on the Millennial Consumer 2014.” The reason millennials, who are particularly in tune with food trends, love Chipotle is that it offers authentic, customizable meals with ingredients that reflect their values — organic, local ingredients and naturally raised meat with no added hormones or antibiotics.

The market is far from saturated, and many grocery and convenience stores as well as restaurant chains could jump aboard. Consumers are still looking for delicious, fresh-tasting alternatives to the food they’re finding in the Roadside Pantry.

As CEO, Laurie Demeritt provides strategic and operational leadership for The Hartman Group’s research and consulting teams. The Hartman Group is recognized for its ability to blend qualitative, quantitative and trends research to help clients develop marketing strategies. Its analysts understand the subtle complexities of how consumers live, shop and eat, and how to apply that understanding in ways that lead to purchase. For more information about The Hartman Group, visit or contact Blaine Becker, Senior Director of Marketing at:

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