September 15, 2008
Grocers ‘Prepared’ for Demand
By Sarah Skidmore The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. - Somewhere amid the sweet pea salad with blue cheese and spicy beef wraps at the grocery deli counter, Natalya Toker found her lunch.Toker said she prefers eating homemade food. But like many Americans, when she does choose to eat out, she is heading more often to the grocery store. "I want to choose something healthier," the 21-year old said at a Fred Meyer store in Portland.
Grocery stores say they have seen the popularity of their prepared foods grow as consumers try to save time, money and sometimes calories. And the economic downturn has helped boost the trend as folks trade down from restaurants to dinner at home. So grocers are boosting the selections in response to people's growing
appetite for prepared foods.
"When they are trying to return to more meals at home, they don't want to start from scratch like we would a generation or two ago," said Tim Hammonds, president and CEO at the Food Marketing Institute, an industry trade group. "That's why the prepared foods are so popular."
They come in ready-to-eat form - like rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes or sandwiches. Or there are ready-to-heat styles like stuffed salmon, lasagna or meatloaf that just need to hit the stove. "I've been doing (this) for years," said Michael Braun, 54, buying his dinner from the New Season's grocery deli counter in Portland. "It's just easier."
Grocery stores have taken note of the popularity.
Last month, Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover supermarkets added more than 100 fresh prepared foods such as soups and bourbon chicken. Recently, Supervalu Inc. introduced a line of more than 150 items that aim to rival restaurant-quality food such as pork carnitas enchilada casserole and pineapple upside-down cake.
Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., which has long offered prepared foods at its stores, recently expanded its options to include items such as lobster bisque, baked ziti and dinner packages that feed a family of four for $10.
But many grocers say they are seeing the biggest growth in simple comfort foods. Whole Foods Market Inc. said its best-sellers include macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes in some stores. The company has recently added a "family-size savings" program that allows shoppers to get a discount when they buy two or more pounds of some prepared foods.
"They can basically pick up dinner in one stop," said Whole Foods spokeswoman Libba Letton.
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