PHILADELPHIA -- Consumers surveyed this summer by Consumer Network Research here said that supermarkets aren't even in the running when it comes to the "home meal replacement" business.
That's the conclusion drawn by Mona Doyle, president of the research firm, interviewed by SN about the survey's results. In a poll of 315 consumers in different parts of the United States, Doyle asked, among other questions, "Do you agree that supermarkets should try to do a better job of competing with Boston [Market]?" Just 24% said yes.
"But that doesn't mean 76% thought supermarkets were competing well. At first I was surprised at that 24%, but then from some of their comments I realized that their perception is that supermarkets aren't even in the same business," said Doyle in a telephone interview with SN.
The Golden, Colo.-based restaurant chain Boston Market is considered one of the seminal operators in the emerging "home meal replacement" market. It is a market many supermarket operators have said they are interested in targeting.
"They think of Boston [Market] as providing a wholesome meal to take home. And they figure anything they might take home from the supermarket to eat right away is from the deli. And deli isn't dinner," Doyle added.
One consumer participant said, "As far as I'm concerned, supermarkets can't compete on the meal business. Boston [Market] has a fast turnover . . . [I] don't know how long chicken has been sitting in the supermarket."
As Doyle sees it, "The consumer's perception of deli, too, is that there are products there that are high in fat. They think of a lot of mayonnaisey salads.
"Consumers see fast food as not healthy, but they see Boston Market as the healthy, wholesome alternative. That's why that chain is running away with the [home meal replacement] category."
She added that it's incumbent on supermarket chains to communicate the "healthy" and "fresh" messages better.
"That's the place where they're missing the mark, but it's a very important place," Doyle said. Consumers already think it's healthier to take food home from the supermarket than it is to eat in a regular restaurant, or especially in a fast-food restaurant, she said. She suggested that supermarkets capitalize on that.
"We see very few stores backing up their food-service programs with advertising or even good signs in-store that document freshness and healthiness," Doyle said.
Another question in the survey elicited a response that could at first sound like good news, but wasn't necessarily so. In response to the statement, "Supermarkets don't make it easy to pick up a last-minute dinner," only 25% agreed strongly. And only 30% agreed at all.
"I just don't think they know how easy it could be in the supermarket. One of the things people like about Boston Market is that it's easy to shop. We [supermarkets] could at least meet them halfway so they don't have to run from one end of the store to the other to get different items for dinner," she said.