Outside chefs can elevate prepared-foods demand

August 01, 2012

Supermarkets can enhance their quality image and build cuisine diversity with the right local partnerships.

If a higher-end retailer can collaborate with a mass merchant—as Neiman Marcus is doing with Target in designer apparel for this upcoming holiday season—will the same principle work with prepared foods?

The Lempert Report thinks limited dishes from locally known chefs at popular restaurants (like fashion designers on a national scale) can excite supermarket customers and generate trips to the store’s prepared-foods section.  Families that can’t afford a $50 per person dinner tab at the restaurant might spend $15 to $20 for a version main dish to make a meal at home special.   Then they might visit the restaurant to celebrate a birthday or other occasion.

Fashion designers create less-pricey versions of their upscale clothes to widen exposure to a broader shopper base.  Chefs can do the same.  Restaurants everywhere vie for attention—and we think the extra periodic offers at a partnering supermarket (perhaps once a month) could simultaneously build the eatery’s following and upgrade the food-store’s image.

The brand is the appeal, in our minds. This means the dish has to be quality, and be offered in a limited quantity and during a short time frame when the food quality can be sustained.  It’s also best, we think, if the eatery and the grocer share similar marquee brand traits.  

An alternative is for supermarkets to bring in food-truck chefs known for their specialty and ethnic cuisine innovations, and for their social-media skills that help customers follow them.  With their dishes brought in on a rotating basis, perhaps as co-branded offers, the supermarket could capitalize on demand for food diversity.  We suggest food-truckers as potential partners because so many municipalities are enforcing new parking regulations, and it’s making their business tougher.  They might appreciate the opportunity and be available.  

These partnerships could be productive:  More than three-quarters of U.S. consumers (78.4%) said they eat takeout up to three times a month, in the SupermarketGuru-National Grocers Association 2012 Consumer Survey Report.