CHICAGO -- It's the aging of America that's driving the burgeoning home-meal replacement industry, says Brian Salus, president, Salus Associates, a Midlothian, Va.-based supermarket consultant.
ountry will be 45 years or older.
The resulting demographic wedge will split the supermarket industry into two formats, he predicted: big box stores and fresh-meal centers.
"Convenience, fun, family-friendliness, health, variety and value are driving consumers to meals away from home," he said, noting also that the explosion of restaurants and restaurant dining since the 1970s has created "restaurant-spoiled consumers."
That restaurant influence on consumers might even be the reason why only 12% of shoppers buy prepared meals in the supermarket, even though 76% of the industry offers some form of prepared meal.
"Never in the history of the food industry have we had consumers with such diverse palettes," he commented. And those palates may not be easily seduced by refrigerated cases of chilled, prepared foods, Salus reasoned.
Meanwhile, however, the shrinking acceptable labor pool is bedeviling the service-oriented sector of the food industry, which he said could ultimately send poorly-served consumers scurrying back to those same self-serve chilled meals sections.
Finally, Salus touted the in-store bakery as potentially more than an addendum to HMR programs. The sights, smells and flavors of freshly baked products may be able to heighten customer attraction to chilled meals, he said, and provide a point of differentiation so many retailers seek when setting up meals programs.