Analysis: grocers can be ‘the ultimate mealtime solution’

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NEW YORK — The pandemic allowed grocery retailers to stem the multiyear trend that had them losing share of consumer spending on food to restaurants and other prepared-food purveyors.

And though Americans are again consuming more meals away from home, there’s reason to be optimistic that grocers can maintain some of the market-share gains as the nation heads into the post-pandemic period, according to a new report from FMI (the Food Industry ­Association).

One if the best moves food retailers can make to lock in recent gains is to improve their foodservice offerings, FMI said in its “2021 Power of Foodservice at Retail” study.

“Grocery foodservice is at a competitive inflection point when we look at the state of the U.S. food dollar and the fact that 59% of Americans expect to cook as many meals at home as they do now,” said Rick Stein, FMI’s vice president for fresh food. “The analysis suggests grocers are positioned to be the ultimate mealtime solution, in that 39% of consumers view retail foodservice as a substitute for a both a home-cooked meal and a restaurant meal.”

Kroger Co. this month unveiled a partnership with ghost kitchen start-up Kitchen United that gives the supermarket chain an opportunity to offer shoppers freshly prepared food from as many as six local or national restaurant brands.

Shoppers will order the meals using the Kitchen United website or app or at a kiosk at a Kroger store, selecting restaurant items to create a customized order on a single receipt. Restaurant staff will prepare the food, and delivery service fees will be determined by third-party providers, Kroger and Kitchen United announced in a joint statement.

“As we continue to define Kroger as a food destination, this collaboration creates another seamless way for our customers to order lunch or dinner for pickup while they shop for groceries or for delivery to their location of choice,” said Craig Gauden, Kroger’s director of partnership development.

The first kitchen center is expected to open this fall at a Ralphs store in Los Angeles, with additional locations expected later this year.

Kitchen United and other ghost kitchen operators allow restaurants and other foodservice companies to prepare food strictly for delivery or pickup, sometimes with multiple brands sharing a kitchen.

Kitchen United chief executive officer Michael Montagano said his company’s business model gives restaurants access “to millions of Kroger customers and the ability to better address off-premise demand in a convenient supermarket format — a frequent destination for most consumers.”

The partnership is not the first move Kroger has made to bolster its foodservice offerings. It struck a deal last year with ClusterTruck to open on-premise kitchens inside Kroger locations. And in 2018 it acquired meal-kit provider Home Chef.

“Many consumers have learned during the pandemic that home-prepared meals are not only healthier and more economical, but they can actually be quicker, too,” said FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin. “Retailers have a chance to deepen that experience but should be seeking ways to amplify convenience, nutrition and ease.”



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