Sales continue to grow in prepared holiday meals, as more and more consumers opt to order ready-to-go, traditional dinners for themselves and their holiday guests, instead of spending their days planning menus, assembling ingredients and slaving in the kitchen.
In response to this growing need, retailers are placing a greater focus on product quality and variety and increasing their promotional efforts.
"Prepared-meal programs are appealing to people with busy lifestyles," said one retailer. "If we can provide a good meal at the right price, they're almost predisposed to order it."
"The dinners offer everything," added another. "Just add wine and flowers and you're ready."
Retailers contacted by SN had a variety of plans for the holiday programs.
Carr Gottstein Foods
We've really focused on increasing the quality of our holiday-meal program this year, and our sales have been extremely good as a result. Our goal was to offer the type of high-quality meal that we would be proud to serve our own guests.
One of the ways we improved the quality is by switching from frozen to fresh side dishes. Doing so has made a big difference in taste.
We're offering three complete dinners through New Year's -- a maple cinnamon glazed ham dinner, a boneless prime rib dinner and a Honey Suckle turkey dinner. They come with the five side dishes and are priced at $49.99, $59.99 and $39.99, respectively.
Customers are asked to place their orders a day in advance. We've promoted the program by placing large, in-store pedestal banners in our entranceways, sampling the product during high-traffic days, running newspaper ads and using bag stuffers.
The time constraints of working parents are certainly helping fuel the popularity of these programs, but I think about half the meals we sell are purchased by people to take to others who may be sick or needy.
VP, food-service operations
Rice Food Markets
Sales throughout our nine Epicurean Food Markets, the only company stores to offer a holiday-meal program, are definitely up this year. In November alone, we sold 600 to 700 meals, compared with 500 last year.
Our program consists of a spiral Honeycut ham dinner and a Butterball turkey dinner, which we've offered in two sizes. Nevertheless, we're very flexible and often customize the dinners by substituting hens, whole tenderloins and the like.
Although we kept our prices the same as last year, we concentrated on improving the taste of the turkeys and perfecting the cooking process. We made the stock much more flavorful and added extra stock so the turkeys would retain their moisture, and we began delivering the turkeys 99% cooked. Our customers simply take them home and put them in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.
All the hams and most of the turkeys are prepared by outside sources and delivered to us ready for pickup.
We produce the vegetables and souffles at store level because of their perishability, but the remaining side dishes are produced at a central location. The cornbread stuffing is made from scratch and the pies are made at our in-store bakeries.
We promoted the program by creating a center display in the deli department consisting of a roasted turkey surrounded by side dishes and with in-store signage and an area mailer.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
We're offering two turkey dinners in our 17 stores for the holidays from November through January. We haven't changed our program from last year, but our sales are up about 10% to 15%.
Our Honey Suckle white turkey dinner serves six to eight and is priced $24.99.
Our Butterball turkey dinner serves eight to 10 people and is priced $34.99.
Both dinners are prepared by outside sources and delivered to us in a heat-and-eat format, ready to pick up.
We've promoted the program with in-store signage in our deli departments, and we've offered a $5-off coupon for the Butterball dinner in our weekly newspaper ads since October. So far, sales seem to be evenly divided between the two types of turkey.
deli, bakery, seafood, floral merchandiser
Pay Less Supermarkets
We're experiencing the kind of problem a supermarket likes to have. Sales were so strong during the Thanksgiving season that we sold almost all our inventory of turkeys, which have to be reserved months ahead of time. We expected to sell about 70% of the inventory at Thanksgiving.
As a result, we won't be offering the traditional Norman Rockwell type of dinner for the remaining season. Instead, we'll be focusing on party trays and similar types of offerings. I think we'll do well with that focus, since most people spend the Christmas and New Year season at get-togethers for family, friends and co-workers, and often want to bring something with them.
Our successful turkey dinner served six to eight and was priced at $39.99, or $10 off with our store's shopper's card.
Our program and our price were basically the same as in previous years, but since this is our fifth year I think that we benefited from word-of-mouth advertising and the growing knowledge and confidence of our counter staff.
deli, bakery manager
Affiliated Food Stores
Little Rock, Ark.
Our holiday-dinner program runs from mid-November through Christmas and, so far, our sales this year have been unbelievable. They're double that of last year.
The main difference in this year's program, which we offer to the approximately 350 stores we service as a cooperative, is that we've added deluxe versions of our regular dinners. Both ham dinners feature a 5- to 6-pound spiral glazed ham. The regular dinner serves six to eight and costs $29.95 and the deluxe, which includes side dish options, serves eight to 10 and costs $39.95. The 10-pound turkey dinner serves eight to 10 and costs $29.95 and the deluxe 10- to 12-pound dinner serves 10 for $34.95.
We buy the components premade and distribute them to our stores. All the dinners are precooked, so the end customer just has to heat them up.
deli, food-service sales manager
Big Y Foods
Our prepared holiday-meal program has grown by leaps and bounds since we started three years ago. Sales are up about 20% in our 42 stores.
This year's program benefited from increased promotional support. We featured the dinners in an 18-page color brochure that showcases holiday offerings in our stores, and we set up tables in the delis where customers can see the brochures and place their orders. Last year, we simply supplied order forms.
We also placed two large easels in each deli to promote the program, and we broke our first newspaper ad in late October.
I think one of the main reasons for our program's success is the confidence that our staff is able to instill in our customers. In many cases, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer are hosting the holiday dinner and they need to feel secure.
As an added convenience, we're also creating a separate area in a limited number of stores where customers can bypass the deli lines to pick up their dinners. If it proves successful, we'll put it into effect in all our stores.
Our program consists of a turkey and a ham dinner, both of which serve eight to 10.
The turkeys and hams are delivered to us fully cooked from outside sources. We make the vegetables fresh at our commissary and the rolls and pies we bake at store level.
VP, deli, bakery operations
Metro/Basics Food Market
We're offering two turkey dinners and one ham dinner in our holiday program, which we're running through the Christmas season.
We've promoted the program through in-store fliers and newspaper circulars.
We purchase the dinners from outside sources, and this year we'll be purchasing the various dinners from one source, instead of buying the main dish from one company and the side dishes from another. By doing this, we're able to increase our quality control.
The overall quality of our dinners has definitely increased since we started offering the program five years ago. That quality -- and the busy lifestyle of today's customer -- are what's fueling the program's growth.