Retailers are increasingly hiring in-store chefs as consumers seek more prepared meals, convenience and cooking ideas. That’s a smart move to help differentiate supermarkets, but in many cases store and chef need to better understand each other. Theirs is a relatively new relationship that will have to mature over time.
Chefs are generally more accustomed to foodservice and restaurant environments than retail. Moreover, some retailers haven’t figured out exactly what they want from a chef, or may fail to communicate it well.
Make no mistake, chefs talk to each other, and the impression could build that retail isn’t for their profession.
That’s why supermarkets need to be transparent right from the start about what they need from chefs, and what they offer them.
What are some of the ideas for job roles to communicate? Here are some picks from Nate Stewart, vice president of perishables for Hy-Vee.
• Spending a portion of time teaching customers about meals.
• Helping in-store departments to showcase products in finished forms to give shoppers a better sense of the end results.
• Bringing an R&D sensibility to preparing chilled meals that hold up to heating.
Fortunately, the food retail industry is waking up to the need to fine-tune the role of the chef in the supermarket world.
Stewart is on the Advisory Council of Food Marketing Institute’s Supermarket Chef Showdown, an annual event that will take place next June at FMI Connect in Chicago. This is a contest in which supermarket chefs enter their recipes in various categories, and finalists will compete in front of celebrity judges.
Phil Lempert, a contributing editor of SN, is the executive producer and master of ceremony.
Read more: Supermarket Chef Showdown Applications Open
The program not only gives recognition to chefs, but also helps underscore the message that retail can be a very good place for a chef.
That’s certainly the case at Hy-Vee, which is on the leading edge of retailers embracing chefs. Hy-Vee now employs about 175 chefs in some 235 units across eight Midwestern states. Some stores have up to seven chefs, which allows for a lot of specialization.
Hy-Vee has learned that it all comes back to figuring out the best roles for chefs and communicating this honestly. Are both retailer and chef on the same page about how the relationship will work? If the answer is yes, then we’re really cooking.