Foodservice@Retail: Grocerants: Do grocerants have to meet or exceed nearby restaurant ‘quality’ standards to succeed? Please explain.
Perry Miele, Nestlé Professional: Convenience is what puts the grocerant in the consideration set for many consumers. The grocery is already a destination. So when consumers pass through and can’t find something that meets their needs, it’s a missed opportunity. Exceeding expectations and drawing consumers in with craveable options is the way to win. Most often we observe grocerants serving their meals in grab & go containers rather than white plates you would find in restaurants. This means the food must be even more appetizing and appealing than nearby restaurants.

FRG: Where should grocerants invest for their greatest ROI on “quality” (food, staff, technology, safety, setting, brands, more)?
Miele: All of these elements are important and shouldn’t be ignored. However, if I had to single out one area that I think is often overlooked when it comes to investment it would be food safety. It’s not exciting, I know. But I think it’s easy to assume food safety is someone else’s job. In all foodservice operations, there are so many points of contact: suppliers, chefs, point of sale, servers and even a place to eat. I know at Nestlé, we sometimes frustrate our partners with what I refer to as our “belt and suspenders approach” to safety, but from our perspective safety is just as critical as taste. Alongside safety, consumers want good food, varied menus and well-designed seating areas so they can enjoy a dining experience. I believe grocerants should prioritize staff training, appropriate resourcing, and adequate equipment alongside great food to win consumer preference.

FRG: How does grocerant quality relate to total store quality? Does a high-quality grocerant add a quality halo to the entire store? If yes, where does it particularly help?
Miele: Destination grocerants are bringing in consumers that are flavor-seekers. They are adventurous. The right grocerant concept will elevate the entire store by delivering a satisfying and aspirational experience that will extend to all the aisles. All of this matters, plus grocerants need to provide a dining experience with friendly, knowledgeable servers, along with a dining area that is clean and inviting.

FRG: Can you suggest striking and memorable ways (beyond fundamentals) for grocerants to exude quality? Add a few examples of how these apply to different dining themes.
Miele: This is one area where my international experience has shaped my perception. What I see happening in North America doesn’t seem that different from what grocerant operators in Asia, Italy and France have been delivering to consumers for years. Think about the French Marché – artisanal foods, local cheeses and produce, and rotisserie chicken and meats. And Asian street hawkers – simple food yet bold in flavor and based on regional comfort cuisine. Presentation is critical.

Supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Olive Tree Marketplace are targeting fast casual dining with scratch-made, prepared food areas featuring on-trend specialties and unique ingredients. Grocerants are even competing with coffee specialists by installing brewing equipment, coffee carts and kiosks, and onsite baristas. This is how grocerants pull business from casual and fine-dining restaurants. We are seeing more fine dining options, pop-up dinners prepared by local chefs, social hangout spaces, and cooking classes. Grocerants are starting to resemble the urban food hall.

FRG: Any generational differences in how Millennials, GenX and Boomers perceive grocerant quality?
Absolutely. There are different expectations across all generations and demographics. This is why understanding eating patterns and behaviors throughout the consumer life-cycle is vital to how Nestlé Professional approaches food. There’s a lot of emphasis today on Millennials and their specific patterns, but a lot of how they behave is really a result of technology and how the smart phone and Internet has changed our daily patterns. For example, while both Millennials and Boomers have digital devices, Millennials use theirs to make shopping easier, doing research on their smartphones and tablets before they buy. Boomers are also tech-savvy, but they're less likely to use their devices as a shopping tool.

Millennials are more influenced to try a new prepared item featured in a special checkout display, they love hearing recommendations from staff and friends, and respond to specials sent to their smartphones. Not surprisingly, Millennials are much more interested in unique offerings from their supermarket prepared food section and express highest interest in beer cafes, store-made sushi, store-made pickles. They like being able to drink while shopping, and are more influenced to purchase a prepared item by sustainable and upscale packaging, staff recommendations, and clear nutritional labeling. Millennials purchase things described as fresh. They dine when they see appealing décor and the right ambiance, they are drawn to healthier versions of “bad for you” foods and are willing to pay more for all natural and organic options, and plant-based proteins.

FRG: How should grocerants communicate their quality? Not only to customers, but also the entire trading area?
We know driving traffic into the deli is the first challenge and that converting that shopper into a buyer takes some encouragement. While the properly executed demo is a very effective method, it can take many forms. If you want to encourage the entire trading area, it is effective to include professional events, promoting local chefs and related local sponsors, wine pairings and cooking classes. The 5x7 events at Whole Foods, Senior Day at Kroger, and seasonal events at Central Markets that celebrate the ingredients across all departments, and the wine tastings at Heinen’s, are great examples of taking the demo to the next level. There are also more subtle changes like greeting customers as they enter the prepared foods department, ensuring cleanliness and improving the organization in the cases.

FRG: Where is quality heading? What will supermarket and grocerant diners demand more of in the next two years?
Consumers are looking for eating experiences that are interesting and innovative. I think that global flavors, freshness and transparency in ingredient sourcing will continue to drive the perception of quality as consumers look to prepared meals as an extension of their kitchen.

A smart move would be to develop and execute a social media and digital strategy to drive traffic, while ensuring the in-store experience exceeds consumer expectations. Offering convenient digital ordering and checkout and appealing take-out and delivery options will satisfy and grow consumers. Finally, work with strategic partners who can bring you on-trend restaurant-quality products, unparalleled food safety standards, dedicated insights, culinary support and merchandising and marketing expertise.