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How to meet – and exceed – consumers’ increased expectations for supermarket prepared food

Supermarket prepared foods
(Image credit: (tomatoes and friends/Flickr))

Supermarket prepared food departments are the fastest-growing segment of the foodservice industry. In fact, we project that supermarket prepared food will grow 3.8% in the year ahead, double the growth of the overall industry. These facts aren’t surprising if you’ve stepped into a supermarket prepared food section lately – they’re bustling with shoppers enjoying wine flights, customizing power bowls for lunch and loading up on high-quality prepared foods for dinner. But these updates come with new challenges. How do you sustain this growth? How do you compete with restaurants and other segments that are also upping their game? How do you continue to entice and excite customers who have a new standard for supermarket food?

To answer these questions, Datassential recently surveyed over 2,000 supermarket shoppers and over 75 supermarket decision makers for our upcoming Supermarket Prepared Food & Beverage Keynote Report. We wanted to know where consumers were shopping and what they were buying, the factors that drove them to purchase prepared foods, and the gaps that operators can fill.

Since our last report on the supermarket foodservice segment, in 2013, consumer perceptions of supermarket prepared foods have risen sharply. Consumers are particularly impressed by the quality and variety that prepared foods departments offer today. Over one-third of consumers say that the variety of prepared foods has improved, and nearly the same percentage say the quality has improved — the top two reasons consumers say they are buying more prepared items. And they are purchasing more prepared foods – over half of consumers said they are buying more prepared foods today compared to only a year ago.

Of course, supermarket operators have their own struggles and pain points, and they often differ from other segments in the industry. Limited staff and employee training and retention are top challenges that also impact purchasing and menuing. But as supermarkets up their game and consumers purchase more prepared foods, their expectations are also increasing. In fact, many customers expect prepared food departments to rival their favorite restaurants. Here are a few insights on what consumers are looking for when it comes to prepared foods in supermarkets:

  • Consumers want food that is freshly-prepared in-house, preferably by a trained chef.
  • They want menu boards and LTOs so they can try all of the new items offered.
  • They have higher expectations for cleanliness, speed of service, staff friendliness and décor. And they want a place to sit down and enjoy it all. “I went to a restaurant immediately after [visiting],” one shopper told us. “Maybe I would have purchased something from the store if they had a comfortable dining area.” Over a quarter of the consumers we surveyed said offering free wi-fi would make them more likely to make a bakery purchase.
  • Operators can also keep customers happy by keeping on top of the foods and trends that customers enjoy – and that their competitors may not offer. Consumers are highly interested in premium pizza experiences at supermarkets, for instance, such as wood-fired pizza and customizable hot pizza, neither of which are readily available at most supermarkets. Customization and quality are key overall – customizable burritos and taco and smoked meats/store-made BBQ are other untapped menu opportunities that operators could leverage.

Mike Kostyo is the senior publications manager of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the 2016 Supermarket Prepared Food & Beverage Keynote Report, contact Datassential managing director Brian Darr at


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