Supermarkets’ prepared food departments, taking some cues from the restaurant world, are adding everything from color to flames to punch cards to ramp up the value of their healthy menu items.
Retailers and other industry sources point out, too, that consumers often equate “healthy” with “fresh,” so open preparation, customization and constant attention to keeping displays looking great have taken on new importance.
With new research out (see “Big Sales for Low-Cal”) that shows healthy menu items could be driving sales in some sectors of the restaurant world, retailers need to take heed if they haven’t already done so.
“This generation finds it appealing to have food made in front of them, and restaurants are doing it,” Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm, told SN.
“The fastest-growing restaurant chains cook in front of you,” Balzer added.
And retailers SN talked to emphasized the importance of that transparency in adding value and appeal to all their menus items.
“What customers most often ask is whether something was made today. Fortunately, we can tell them, yes, it was,” said Michelle Cantalupo, supervisor of prepared foods at Super Foodtown, owned by Food Circus, Middletown, N.J. The nine-unit chain has open kitchens in five of its highest-traffic stores.
Read more: Retail Foodservice Changes Needed
But even those who don’t have open kitchens are taking pains to showcase their food prep.
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., has had a well-developed rotisserie chicken program for years and it’s making the most of it with large Rotisol rotisseries, equipped with wire baskets that can hold small items such as chicken parts and potatoes or vegetables as they’re cooked by flame.
Corporate chef Dave Hamlin has successfully put that equipment to use to make a healthful version of an old favorite.
“We’ve taken our eight-piece chicken that we use for our fried program, and instead of frying it, we put the pieces in baskets and flame-roast them,” making them more healthful, and at the same time adding some drama, Hamlin said.
“We also have begun just in the last year to package our all-natural rotisserie chickens in Kraft brown paper bags to set them off from the rest.” Those bags attract customers’ attention, and for many, represent added value because they’re earth-friendly, Hamlin pointed out.
A Hy-Vee store in Austin, Minn., recently launched Wellness Wednesdays that feature one or two ultra-healthy, plated meals modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines for $5.99. These guidelines recommend a lean meat, a whole grain and half a plate of fruit or vegetables.
“Color is a qualifier for these [Wellness Wednesday plates] and we provide that with fresh fruits and vegetables,” Hy-Vee dietitian Jen Haugen said. “To add more value, we display these on top of the service case, with a special sign.” A MyPlate icon sits nearby.
The program got its debut this month. The first plated meal was called Greek Strawberry Chicken Salad. It consisted of grilled, boneless chicken breast on top of dark, leafy greens, orange segments, strawberries, dried cranberries and walnuts, with a dressing made from Greek yogurt. Bottles of milk are offered as a beverage option.
Even as meals’ visual appeal is already drawing customers to them, Haugen decided to add a value tactic that’s been used in the foodservice world as far back as most people can remember — punch cards.
“After customers buy a Wellness Wednesday meal, we punch their card, and after 10 punches, their 11th meal is free,” Haugen said.