GROCERY HEADQUARTERS STORY: Raising The Bar
Reporter Molly Zimnoch talks with Bob Sewall about how soup, salad and Mediterranean bars provide retailers with all the right ingredients for success
Consumers continue to place a premium on health and wellness. With time also at a premium, rather than succumbing to fast-food chains for a quick bite, many are looking to their grocer’s self-serve bars for healthy and convenient meal solutions. Industry observers say the newfound interest in grocers’ self-serve bars has been spurred in part by younger shoppers.
“Everybody wants a good meal out, but it really is Millennials that have set a new standard by demanding not only great food, but also modern choices and high-quality,” says Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Blount Fine Foods. “Millennials are further redefining what ‘home cooked’ really means, and they view well made, high-quality food, offered hot-to-go at the grocery store as either take-out or a do-it-yourself meal.”
Blount, based in Fall River, Mass., specializes in producing a variety of soups, sauces and sides for foodservice and retail. Its product line-up includes traditional favorites like New England Clam Chowder and newer delicacies such as Organic Vegetable Chili. Many of the products feature clean labels with attributes like gluten-free, high fiber, organic and low fat.
The result of the Millennial influence is that grocers have an opportunity to finally do away with what many observers consider dated “salad bar” options. Retailers have already begun to attract customers across the store with clean labels and healthier options and the self-serve bars are no exception.
Meeting specialized dietary requirements, like gluten-free, is also an important sales driver. Doing these few things brings in new customers that appreciate and will pay for restaurant-quality, healthier foods, observers say.
“Soup and salad bars at grocery stores obviously exist because consumers demand convenience and grocers should always be looking to increase convenience,” Sewall adds. By bringing convenience to upscale, unique items like organic butternut squash, gourmet macaroni and cheese and more, retailers can extend beyond the traditional and create a destination for their customers.
With so many options to choose from, consumers appreciate it when the retailer steps in with suggested pairings and pre-determined combinations. For example, during the weekend of Cinco de Mayo, the Wegmans of Cherry Hill, N.J. sampled the company’s spin on a Mexican layer dip. Comprised of guacamole, medium salsa, smoked chipotle lentil hummus and shredded cheddar cheese, shoppers were handed a recipe with every sample. All ingredients, except for the cheese, were located nearby in the self-serve bar, which just happened to be located next to the specialty cheese shop.
Observers say variety is the key to maximizing soup and salad bar sales. Variety can be offered in the selection of foods available, by offering ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat products and through size options available. Having an array of healthy options also goes a long way. “The best retailers show how easy it is to feed delicious, quality food to a family of four at a reasonable price,” Sewall adds.
The Mediterranean marketplace
Whether it is in the grocery or fresh departments, consumers want options and the Mediterranean bar is no exception. Tried and true classics such as green olives with pimento and kalamatas are a must, but gourmet items such as cipolline onions in balsamic vinegar or insalata provolone will appeal to the more epicurean shopper, observers say.
The George DeLallo Co. takes its California Sevillano olive, “which is a must-have in any store,” says vice president Anthony DiPietro, and stuffs it with an assortment of savory, fresh fillings like almonds, garlic, anchovy, jalapeno, as well as feta, asiago and blue cheeses. Depending on store size, a retailer’s Mediterranean bar can offer anywhere from 10 to 75 items so there is more than enough room for experimentation and variety.
Across all product lines, retailers are seeing continued demand for hot and spicy flavors, observers add. A new on-trend item from the Jeannette, Pa.-based DeLallo is the Pepperazzi. While similar in appearance to a cherry pepper, the Pepperazzi is known for its sweet essence with tangy-hot undertones. “The Pepperazzi is ideal for stuffing, hosting many savory, tender fillings such as seasoned rice, crabmeat or soft cheese with herbs,” DiPietro says.
“The Mediterranean/Middle Eastern ethnic segment grew more than 23% by dollar sales from 2010-2012 and continues to grow,” says Andrea Seitz, marketing director for Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Castella Imports. “Healthy attributes of these cuisines, particularly olives and extra virgin olive oils that are often associated with the Mediterranean diet, have boosted sales in this sector.”
In addition to its health benefits, Mediterranean flavors from Spain, Greece and Italy have become popular in the restaurant world with tapas, antipasti, and charcuterie boards popping up on menus nationwide. Thanks to the ease and availability of the Mediterranean bar, many consumers feel comfortable and confident bringing these items into their home when entertaining, say observers. “More than anything, we see success when retailers try to capture share-of-stomach from the restaurant trade,” says Sewall.
“While we’re always looking to create new items, we’re very committed to further selling the items already in the bar,” says DiPietro. DeLallo often does this by promoting an item’s function as an ingredient, as well as its individual use. “Those types of things show consumers a fresher way to purchase these items than via grocery, and it is something that’s helping to expand more sales,” he adds.
Whether consumers are visiting the Mediterranean bar to build a meal or prepare for guests, DeLallo is prepared to help retailers in their efforts. The manufacturer supplies party platters that consumers can fill up themselves or buy pre-packaged. They also offer a variety of point-of-sale materials educating consumers about an item’s origins, usage and potential pairings. These suggestions often extend to the specialty meats, cheeses and wines a retailer stocks, DiPietro adds.
“Cross-merchandising is still one of the most effective ways to showcase product and pique shoppers’ interest,” Seitz says. “At Castella, we believe the journey begins with combining different products to present to customers. When you display an assortment of olives, antipasti, oils and vinegars and cheeses in close proximity to the bar, the retailer is providing a one-stop shop, or as we like to call it, a ‘Mediterranean Marketplace’ full of serving suggestions for the shopper.”
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