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Fresh food remains key differentiator

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Supermarkets have long used their perishable food departments to wow shoppers and to convey an image of food quality and freshness that helps elevate shoppers’ perceptions of the whole store.

The importance of fresh food has only grown lately, as the pandemic led Americans to change their grocery shopping and cooking habits in ways that are persisting even as life returns to normal in other ways.

FMI – The Food Industry Association president and chief executive officer Leslie Sarasin notes that food retailers and suppliers are responding to the heightened consumer interest with enhanced offerings, both in-store and online.

Those efforts are paying off, according to the inaugural “The State of Fresh Foods” report, which FMI released last month during its FreshForward event in Denver.

The report found that fresh foods — part of the “retail theater” that makes shopping in grocery stores so appealing for many people — are also selling well online.

Fresh or perimeter departments now comprise 40% of all online sales, the report found, rivaling dry grocery online sales (41%) and surpassing frozen online sales (11%).

“The fact that 40% of online sales are being generated by fresh foods departments suggests a major change from previous trends,” says Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for FMI, who noted that retailers are also investing heavily in their food service offerings and capabilities, trying everything from in-store dining and juice bars to online ordering and pickup/delivery of food service offerings.

What’s clear is that fresh food remains a key differentiator for grocery retailers.


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