Time for Supermarkets to Get Cooking

The Lempert Report
March 31, 2015

Restaurant sales are up so far this year, so what does that mean for supermarkets?

According to recent analysis of the Census Bureau sales figures by The Food Institute, purchases in the nation’s foodservice industry jumped 13 percent from last year, to $48 billion in January! That's the largest such gain in over a decade.

Why could this be? Brian Todd, Food Institute CEO suggested a number of factors that could be contributing to this surge in eating away from home. For example, eating habits of the millennial generation (generally those born between 1980 and 2000 and now the largest segment of the population) who tend to eat away from home more than other age groups.

Another could be that lower gasoline prices have given consumers a little more wiggle room in their weekly budgets for which to enjoy eating away from home more. “An average U.S. household is expected to spend $550 less on gasoline in 2015 compared with 2014 according to the Department of Energy. So frequenting a restaurant an additional night each month, or not brown bagging it a couple days a week, has less of an impact on their weekly budgets than previously. And perhaps after several years of budget belt-tightening by consumers following the recession, they are more apt to splurge while doing so.”

So are we heading towards consumers spending more eating away from home, than at home? And if so, how can supermarkets gain from this? While we'll have to wait and see how upcoming months shape up in terms of restaurant sales, in the meantime, supermarkets can use this opportunity to expand and improve their prepared foods. Give shoppers another option to eating out, but one that's more convenient. Prepared foods can be more than a salad bar and sandwiches. Supermarkets could host and feature local chefs, start up caterers or themed daily dishes of their own. Being higher quality than the regular prepared foods, these options could be priced a little higher than your usual prepared foods options, with the goal being to offer nutritious and flavorful meals that appeal to foodies and people looking to treat themselves to a nicer dinner, while still enjoying the convenience of eating at home.