ANAHEIM, Calif. — Consumers rank supermarkets among the least innovative retail food outlets, but it only takes a look at competing formats to change that perception, according to new research previewed at the annual International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association show here.
Jack Li, managing director of Datassential, a Los Angeles-based market research firm, said the IDDBA-funded study found that only 42% of consumers polled thought their favorite supermarket was on-trend. Specialty supermarkets were considered the most innovative, with 65% of respondents in agreement, followed by fast-casual restaurants, with 63%. “We looked at a broad range of inputs for this study,” including interviews with 20 expert innovators, 50 retailer audits and 3,000 consumer interviews, Li said.
Among the unique ideas is one that taps into the food truck craze that's sweeping the country. Li noted that the recent National Restaurant Association show included a section devoted to mobile vending and, while at first glance operating a food truck might seem contradictory for a supermarket, retailers can get valuable leads on emerging trends.
“You see things like pork shoulder, bison and pork belly and falafel being used, things that consumers might not otherwise have tried,” Li said. “What's happening on food trucks today could be the next big thing at the deli tomorrow.”
Consumers like the deli, the study found. A “landslide” majority prefers fresh deli items to those found in the aisles, Li said. Quality is the obvious reason, and visits would be even higher if the department weren't so expensive. Value therefore trumps quality in the consumer's deli-buying decision. Taking a page from the restaurant industry, Li said that retailers can reinvigorate their value perception by bundling meals, offering “Happy Hour” discounts at dinner time or creating a frequent-buyer reward program.
“People want more food at the deli, but they say they can't quite afford it,” he said.
Retailers can save on labor and offer a value price on meal packages if they're offered ready to cook. Raw kits that include a protein, a sauce, a starch and any other element not only send the “fresh” message, they also promote customization, which many consumers find appealing. Reaching out to consumers through technology has become a preferred way many retailers are publicizing their stores' unique events and new products. The Datassential research shows that 84% of those polled are very interested in grocery apps.
At the same time, however, 60% of all downloaded apps are used five times or less, and end up relegated to the back pages of the user's screen. Apps need to stay relevant if they're to be truly beneficial to a retailer, Li said, citing Kraft Foods for its wide-ranging app that includes a shopping list, training videos, recipes, nutrition advice and other features that, in aggregate, offer “a daily value” to consumers.
Datassential's study, to be released this summer through IDDBA, identifies 194 different elements that can help modernize deli, dairy and bakery departments.