Not every supermarket has a catering department, and even those that do confine their operations to deli platters, giant subs, cut fruit bowls and cookie trays.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Those choices have always been the reason why consumers get supermarket catering in the first place. They are the equivalent of a fast-food menu: No matter where you are, the product pretty much looks and tastes the same. There are no surprises, just reassuring comfort food.
That said, there are some supermarkets that stretch their catering in new directions. These are primarily the single- and small-group stores that are hyper-local and have been around for years. Places like Rice Epicurean Market in Houston; Lunds/Byerly’s in St, Paul, Minn.; and Mustard Seed Market & Cafe, Akron, Ohio, are among the leaders in this group.
One of the ways they’re expanding their menus is including organic, local or sustainable products. In fact, Mustard Seed is hosting an Organic Harvest Taste Fair this weekend, and it’s likely at least some of those items will end up as ingredients either on the café menu or part of a holiday season spread.
Another local retailer is going full speed into organic catering. Right By Nature Market in Pittsburgh, Pa., is adding corporate catering and delivery for any daypart. The catering department is a fold out of the retailer’s existing café operation, and an online ordering option is actually part of its recent merger with GoodApples.com, the city’s largest online grocer and delivery service.
“Customers are placing regular catering orders averaging over $80 per delivery and they have increased week-over-week,” says Michael Johnson, who manages both the market and the catering operation, to be called Hometown Catering. Orders start at a minimum of $35 and can be delivered for free to any location in the Greater Pittsburgh area, the retailer added.
The store seems ideally set up to offer organic catering. The company claims it is the only store east of the Mississippi to carry 80% organic and 20% conventional best-selling products.
Specialized catering using all organic or local foods is tricky and can be expensive. A general rule of thumb is that, the larger the event, the more food costs can be offset by other, pricier components. Industry statistics note that with upper-tier productions, food costs usually top out at 30% of the total.
For catering retailers in certain regions or markets, making organic, local or sustainable food a menu choice is worth looking at. Traditional areas of core consumers, such as the Pacific Northwest, or near universities and colleges where eco-consciousness is high, are good starting points.
[Photo credit: Catherine Bulinski]