From Grocery to Grocerant: 3 First Steps Grocers Can Take Now

The fusing of grocery stores and restaurants into hybridized “grocerants” is a trend that’s sticking in a world where most food trends vanish almost as soon as they arise.

In short, grocerants are the result of the quickly blurring line separating restaurants and grocery stores––two businesses that both serve hungry customers. Today, the average store and restaurant goer doesn’t show up starved for just food––they’re also starved for time, leading innovators to fuse the two into one experience.

Statistics that speak for themselves

According to the NDP Group, a U.S. research firm, grocerants generated 2.4 billion new visits and over $10 billion U.S. in sales in 2016. In the restaurant world, that kind of industry shift hasn’t been seen since drive-through service emerged decades ago. In the grocery world, the numbers are growing, too. We’ll let Neilsen’s own “Tops of 2016: U.S. Grocery” speak for itself:

“…sales from grocerants are climbing, with sushi alone posting growth of 16.4% in 2015. But it’s not just the fresh section that is reaping the ready-to-eat meal benefits. Lunch combinations (pre-made lunch options like sandwiches, snacks and cheese and cracker kits) are helping the center of store continue its growth trajectory by offering simple meal solutions for children and adults alike.”

While the successes of high-end hybrid shopping and dining experiences found at places like Mario Batali’s Eataly offer proof that consumers are interested in more than just filling a cart at the grocery store, “shining star” examples like this give little practical insight into what traditional grocers and supermarkets can do to take steps in that direction.=

Fortunately, Nielsen’s explanation above includes a promising take, citing simple snack and meal packaging as a way to offer portable solutions to customers living hectic lives. Here are a few ideas and examples grocers can use and follow to take baby steps toward the grocerant model themselves:

1. Invest in grab-and-go equipment

Beyond the time it takes to put them together, integrating products into snack and meal packages may only require some extra equipment around the store.

Combination oven and blast chiller units can be integrated into a grab-and-go system to keep products cold or frozen while on or near store floors. Check out Electrolux’s Cook & Chill equipment to learn more about how these systems work as well as the HACCP safety controls built into them to ensure safe handling.

Similarly, InterMetro’s SmartWalls can be integrated into food prep areas, giving easy, arm’s length access to associates making take-home items for busy consumers.

2. Start preparing more food

Prepared foods are projected to be the top sales growth category within the in-store food service industry at 7.5 percent annually over the next decade.

To be a part of that percentile, grocers will need to meet growing consumer demand for healthy prepared foods. If sales growth among the companies manufacturing the equipment enabling these offerings is any indication for smart investments on the part of grocers, The Q Series and ISLA refrigerated displays from Hussman should be key items to consider.

“We are seeing demand for multiple display levels within both the service and self-service displays as retailers are increasing variety and offering more choices to shoppers. Our ISLA islands can be used to extend the prepared food offerings away from the perimeter wall and into the center store, or even at the front, providing quick, easy and convenient access to snacks or mini meals for the daypart shopper.” – Cheryl Beach, marketing communications manager at Hussmann Corp

3. Control costs while expanding store offerings through enhancement and repurposing

Cost is perhaps the number one obstacle for grocers looking to upgrade their stores with more prepared and fresh food options. But you may find a number of opportunities simply by enhancing or repurposing the equipment you’re already using.

Upgrading traditional fryers to pressure fryers is one example of a unit now being enhanced to prepare hot food within the store, as the latter can prepare hot foods in a faction of the time.

When paired with touchscreen controllers, products can be selected incredibly easily and cooked to precise temperatures, reducing the training burden on staff.

If added energy costs are a concern with either adding new equipment or getting more use out of what you already have in-store, companies like Parker-Hannifin offer both mechanical and electronic controls designed specifically to keep foodservice systems running smoothly. Even simple components brought by control systems like these can save significant amounts of energy costs for food displays and other equipment.