Saturday, June 30, 2012

Its Saturday afternoon no time to cook so WHAT’s for Dinner?

When 4 PM rolls around most Americans start wondering what am I going to have for dinner and very, very few will even entertain the idea of cooking from scratch. Most people don’t have a clue what they want let alone what is for dinner. At least that is what research has shown over the past several years. At 4 PM it’s time to turn up the competition between Supermarkets, Grocery Stores, Convenience Stores and Restaurants.

The grocerant sector filled fresh prepared ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat food is booming. Grocery stores tout rapidly growing Takeout or Take Away foods that are fresh prepared restaurant quality. 7 Eleven is slowly rolling away from the roller grill and into fresh prepared consumer focused ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat food.
Grocery Stores and Supermarkets are pushing the high margin prepared portable food section all the while Convenience Stores are bundling and pricing ready-2-eat or heat-N-eat food extremely competitively. Whole Foods hot food stations are thriving all around the country.

Restaurateurs are packaging, bundling and marketing Take Away and Togo food better than ever. The consumer focused on menu selection, portion size and price have responded nicely to these new restaurant offerings and customer counts are growing again. Subway is now entering breakfast in a big way with better for you products.

Here at Foodservice Solutions® we specialize in understanding successful bundling of fresh prepared ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat food. It is the increasing margins and growing sales that are attracting restaurateurs, grocery stores and convenience stores into this sector.

These my friends are the good times. Bundled meal components are changing and evolving by region and family size. If you would like a strategic grocerant program assessment or a grocerant tour we can arrange them for you, your group, by niche, city or country.

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Steven Johnson is Grocerant Guru at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions, with extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, consultant, brand / product positioning expert and public speaking. Johnson, or

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fast Food is home cooking.

Home may be where the heart is but not the food. In new research just completed on ready-2-eat fresh prepared fast food conducted by Sandelman & Associates found “34 percent of the population in Dallas patronized a quick-service restaurant 20 or more times a month, making it the No. 1 market for incidence of super-heavy fast-food users in the United States.” 

34 percent eating 20 or more times are month stunning numbers even Foodservice Solutions® Grocerant Guru Steven Johnson.  Regular readers of this blog know we have been tracking the sharp rise in the ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat grocerant niche since 1991.  Sandelman is a highly respected firm and these numbers are good.  What they are telling us is consumers continue to love convenience.

50 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18 are single according the U.S census.  Fast food outlets have identified and honed in on that fact.  They provide meals for one at a price much less than a single person can cook the same meal at home.  Convenience stores are repositioning with mix and match single meal components garnering market share from both grocery stores and Fast Food restaurants.

Grocery store delis were the only sector of the grocery store to show strong year over year sales increases. The ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat fresh prepared food niche provides solutions to consumer.  It’s that simple.

Invite Foodservice Solutions® to complete a grocerant program assessment, brand, product placement or positioning assistance.  Since 1991 Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit Johnson, or

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Migration Marketing Driving McDonalds Café and Panera’s Drive Thru’s.

Retail food consumers are dynamic not static.  While food retailers are a fragmented group. Consumers on the other hand have a plethora of universal commonalities that indicate just where they may be headed next when buying food. One of the commonalities is speed of service.  Today consumers want what they want when they want it.  Breakfast for lunch or Dinner for Breakfast as an example however they all want it fast.

McDonalds Café is an example of expanding day-parts and menu re-alignment with a focus on beverage and “snacking”.  While they call it snacking, consumer research informs us that consumers are searching for portion, price reductions.  This is driven in large part by the confluence of obesity messaging and the economy.   Many convenience stores have focused on price and reduced portions size combined with speed of service to offer $0.99 take-away food while capturing traditional QSR’s consumers.  In fact Sheetz now calls itself a chain restaurant that sells gas.  We agree Sheetz is a food retailer selling fresh prepared food more important consumers believe it as well.

While consumer are not all focused on price Panera Bread is beginning to offer drive thru’s service because it complements  their catering and take-Away business which is near 50% of sales.  Consumers do not take steps backward.  They have grown accustom to quick service yet have a test for “better for you” food and Panera Bread fits that bill. 

Kroger is now testing convenience stores again research highlights that the overriding universal commonality in food retailing that consumers desire for speed of service.  It’s simple smaller store less time to get in and out.  Whole Foods has reduced the size of all new stores to 30,000SF while increasing ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat fresh prepared food. 

Clearly retail foodservice channel disruptions are underway and lead by the consumer.  Exactly the way it should be. Food retailers must react and focus on consumer commonalities for success. Migration Marketing helps legacy retailers create differentiation in a world where the line between restaurants and food retailers is growing even thinner.  specializes in outsourced business development. We can help you identify, quantify and qualify additional food retail segment opportunities or a brand leveraging marketing integration strategy.  Foodservice Solutions of Tacoma WA is the global leader in the Grocerant niche and has been since 1991 Contact:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kroger’s new consumer centric growth strategy is a good idea.

I was once informed by a U.S. Navy Admiral that “aircraft carriers do not turn on a dime”.  Success does leave clues and building on success is what Kroger is planning.  All food retailers goal is to continue growing profitably.  When consumer food consumption patterns evolve, retailers follow.  Some food industries sectors are bit slower than others the grocery sector for one the restaurant sector is another.  Kroger is now leveraging its internal supply chain advantages, marketing know-how and deep analytical expertize to shift from grocery store and super-size food retailer into a spoke-N-hub end to end food retailer.

Michael Schlotman Kroger Company’s Chief Financial Officer recently stated that Kroger plans to open more convenience stores.  To date all Kroger convenience stores are located in the proximity of its grocery stores.  Kroger will be focusing on consumer’s number one goal when food shopping speed of service with the new c-store outlets. In addition the focus will be on fresh food, with fresh presentations; including an expanded deli area for ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat food options aka grocerant options. 

While Kroger is experimenting with different formats Schlotman says that it is too early in the process to call it a full scale test.  Kroger is aware that Wawa a chain of regional convenience stores is the fourth largest food retailer in the Delaware Valley.  The success that Wawa and Sheetz have found in the convenience store sector focusing on fresh food rather than roller grill options has clearly placed the spotlight smaller footprint food outlet options aka grocerant niche.

Kroger’s national footprint could benefit greatly from such a move particularly on the West Coast where Kroger’s large store format Fred Meyer could be complemented with additional outlets.  Importantly there is a lack of corporate owned convenience stores on the West Coast and very few if any with the consumer focus and quality attributes of c-store industry leaders Wawa or Sheetz.

Since 1991 retail food consultancy Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche for more on Foodservice Solutions® Bing or Google Grocerants or visit, Email:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The 5P’s of Food Marketing are resetting the price value equilibrium.

When Americans go on a diet they simply want to eat their way thin.  Let’s face it Americans, myself included are overweight and are at least thinking about a diet or are on a diet.  While the diet may be top of mind with consumer successful food retailers are now providing solutions with smaller plates, lower prices and creative beverage options.

When I was a QSR franchisee in the late 70’s and early 80’s we offered consumer three sizes of drinks small 10oz, medium 12oz and large 16oz.  Since that time we have seen portion creep.  The size of the burgers are bigger, beverages are larger, and French Fries portions grew as well.  The same can be found in both casual dining restaurants and full service restaurants.  Today the appetizers at many restaurants are entrée size and deserts could easily serve a party of four. 

The grocerant niche filled with ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat fresh prepared food has driven success in new non-traditional avenues of distribution. Creating new personalized options for meal customization empowering consumer choice all with a halo of “better for you” fresh prepared. Foodservice Solutions® 5 P’s of food marketing: Product, Packaging, Placement, Portability and Price are the universal commonalities found with the niche.  Simply put consumers are trading “up” in perceived quality and down in portion size and price.

Restaurateurs that want to be competitive must offer branded food entities with identity. Creating or identifying distinctive differentiated food consumable’s as an entity with identity, with consumer focused pricing, portions within existing and new points of distribution will be key to on-going success.  Consumers want to eat their way thin.  Do you know how to help your brand and consumers?

Invite Foodservice Solutions® to complete a grocerant program assessment, brand, product placement or positioning assistance.  Since 1991 Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit Johnson, or
Contact:  253-759-7869 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Boston Market will two steps back and two steps forward re-ignite the brand?

Understanding that Boston Market is a consumer interactive participatory restaurant concept with a with a reputation for providing wholesome meals Chief Brand Office Sara Bittorf is kicking off the summer with a campaign to educate  and elevate consumers product knowledge while edifying the brand.
The campaign is filled with special offers and giveaways to lure in new customers unaware of the brand, the food, the quality or dining experience. Bittorf firmly believes “very strongly that the Boston Market brand has the ability to reclaim the position it owned 15 years ago, when it reinvented the home meal replacement category”.

One problem consumer do not take a step back.  The retail food consumers are dynamic not static. The “home meal replacement category” has been replaced.  Utilizing legacy benchmark metric’s to build consumer relevance is in and of itself a major miss calculation.  Owning the position Boston Market had 15 years is a position no company wants to be in.  What is now needed is consumer relevance in messaging of the 5’P’s of Food Marketing:   Product,   Packaging,   Placement,   Portability, and Price.

The ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat fresh prepared food niche today is expanding rapidly. Foodservice industry leading the grocerant niche metrics are consumer centric, interactive while inclusive, fueled not surprisingly by Millennials and Baby Boomers.

While free giveaways will drive trial Boston Market requires core brand repositioning within the grocerant niche to garner sustainable consumer relevance. Success does leave clues.

Steven Johnson is Grocerant Guru at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions, with extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, consultant, brand / product positioning expert and public speaking. Johnson, or

Sunday, June 24, 2012

McDonald’s leverages “better for you” chicken around core brands.

Industry leadership requires steadfast focus and continuous consumer monitoring. McDonald’s is a global leader in the restaurant industry in large part because they do not practice brand protectionism. Recently McDonald’s Corp. Chief Financial Officer said that balancing local relevant products with its core brands has proven a key benefit.

Chicken is the leading global retail protein. Leveraging “Chicken” provides “better for you” consumer perceptions for McDonald’s.  While Bensen stated that McDonald’s five core brands are Big Mac, French Fries, Hamburger, Cheeseburger and Chicken McNuggets which account for more than 25% of total sales. Those core menu items will remain center in terms of promotion.  It’s clear the global acceptance of chicken provides not only a halo of “better for you” McDonalds but a platform or continued LTO introductions and on-going brand relevance.

With the focus on the consumer and “consumer permission” McCafe’s hot and cold specialty drinks is another great example of leveraging universal beverage commonalities into consumer relevance around the globe.  For more on McDonald’s success by abandoning brand protectionism here is a link to one of our previous blogs:

Outside eyes can deliver top line sales and bottom line profits.  Invite Foodservice Solutions® to complete a grocerant program assessment, brand, product placement or positioning assistance.  Since 1991 Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit Johnson, or

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Social Media is driving global awareness of grocerant fresh prepared ready-2-eat / heat-N-eat food.

Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has garnered attention via social media for its expertise in the grocerant niche. C-level industry chain professionals from Restaurants, Grocery Stores and Convenience Stores, Dollar Stores and Drug Stores have been seeking information on the grocerant niche via Linkedin.
Front line chefs are following grocerant information on Facebook at Steven Johnson. The grocerant niche comprised of fresh prepared food that is ready-2-eat and or heat-N-eat.  Grocerant niche food is deemed “better for you food” and propelling growth within the all retail foodservice sectors today.

While consumers remain loyal to supermarkets for affordable, convenient meal solutions, bundled fresh prepared meal components are driving daypart sales.  Interestingly fully-cooked meat, which accounts for 6 percent of meat department dollars, had the greatest dollar increase from the prior year. Growth was driven primarily by fully-cooked chicken, which increased 3+ percent in sales and still at competitive prices.

Within the grocerant niche mix & match meal component bundling is empowering consumer choice; something consumer like.  In addition many retailers  have begun to focus on catering; again this is something that not only builds top line growth but expands the brand beyond the four walls. Many QSR’s have begun selling “snack” items, which has expanded daypart sales and consumer choice while increasing consumer frequency.

While convenience stores focus on price and bundled meal options the entire niche is following the fresh prepared food niche.  We will soon be seeing regional chefs prepare portable meal’s selections in the Convenience stores sector.  These are exciting times in retail foodservice.  What we eat, how we eat and where we buy our meals are all evolving rapidly. 

Since 1991 retail food consultancy Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche. For brand or positioning experts contact: Foodservice Solutions® Bing or Google Grocerants or visit, Email:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Restaurant Channel Disruptions Continue to Garner Strength.

Who’s after restaurateurs food dollars and why they should care. While food consumers are a highly fragmented group there are universal commonalities creating channel disruptions. Consumers want what they want when they want it! Today it is all about the consumer buying what the type of food they want, where they buy it and how they buy it is in flux. You can buy food from large format food retailers the ilk of  Safeway Lifestyle stores, Kroger’s Fred Meyer, Walmart Supercenters and, Whole Foods, or Smaller Format retailers like Trader Joe, Fresh & Easy (Tesco), Dollar Stores, Walgreens, and of course restaurants.

The line between restaurants and food retailers is growing ever thinner. The fight for America's food dollars continues to intensify as consumers find fresh prepared ready-2-eat food options at a wide and growing array of outlets across almost every channel: convenience stores, chain drug stores, restaurants, grocery stores, club stores, vending and even more non-food retailers like dollar stores. While manufacturers, retailers and restaurants worry about choice overload, consumers have embraced their new choices and show no signs of returning to the old ways. This fight is taking place in what is called the grocerant niche.

The restaurant industry is not an industry known for trying to be first as in fastest to market with an ideation, food or technology advance. In the United States the larger the chain in almost all cases the more slowly they are to adopt something than a smaller chain or independent restaurants will. Chain restaurants goal is simple feed one meal at a time in the restaurant while protecting and edifying the brand.

Historically chain restaurant leaders have denied the credibility of start-up competitors as non-relevant. The pizza sector is a great example; evolving from family dinning independents to national chain of "Red Roof" Italian, then to delivery only outlets and now take-N-bake is garnering market share in the pizza sector. (Note: Home Made Pizza Company and Papa Murphy's are further examples of take and bake pizza operators.)

Trends in the Food Industry Point to an Increase in Non-Traditional Meal Occasions

At the intersection of the consumer, fresh prepared food and technology we fine that consumer eating behavior is evolving and is now beyond the control of traditional food marketers. Evolving culture and lifestyle, demographics along with the new uncertain economy are all putting pressure on the American food consumer: Demands of work, economic shrinkage, demands of raising a family, commuting, social interaction, kid's after-school activities, all contribute to a food marketplace where convenience vies with price over legacy brands. Recent advances in food packaging and new points of non-traditional food distribution have empowered consumer choice, and Americans are embracing these choices even as legacy marketers cringe. Who's after restaurant food dollars… simply put… everyone.

Why should you care if Walgreens is selling fresh prepared ready-2-eat and made-2-order sandwiches? Why should you care if Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Safeway and Wegmans are selling ready-2-eat and or heat-N-eat fresh pizza? Why should you care if Coinstar is selling Seattle Best Coffee at 1,000 locations for $1.00?

You should care because they are selling it, and you are not! The fastest growing sector of retail food service for the past four years has been the Convenience store sector. The C-store sectors growth in large part has been driven by fresh prepared food. Non-traditional avenues of distribution are growing, gobbling market share while establishing new patterns of consumption, price points and customer loyalty.

The Shopper is in Control Spurring New Retail Food Formats

Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have created ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat fresh prepared food items with qualitative differentiation as an entity with identity that has help propel them into ready-2-eat fresh prepared food leadership. In fact recent research shows that both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are each known for high quality (restaurant quality) ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat foods with distinctive offerings. More important each is leading with innovative products and package size that create value and have positioned each chain as a food shopping destinationfor meal components customized and personalized for immediate consumption or mix and matched for a meal time at home. In short they are stealing your customers.

Walgreens fresh prepared food is restaurant quality and priced less than Panera Bread or Corner Bakery CAFE. Both Panera Bread and Corner Bakery CAFEthrive in urban locations. Walgreens is now growing price, quality and speed of service advantages over legacy retailers. Legacy restaurant chains must reconsider the speed at which they evolve and adapt or non-traditional outlets will capture profits margins as well.

Traditional views of meals and mealtime can pretty much be discarded. Legacy retailers waiting for the "next big thing" to copy simply might be out of luck this time. Legacy food retailers may not like to be first movers very much but it may prove that waiting too long will not work this time.

Product, Packaging, Placement, Portability and Price are Foodservice Solutions® 5 P’s

The retail food world is evolving at an ever increasing pace filled with innovation in food, portion size, points of distribution, and quality fresh prepared meal solutions. The price, value, service equilibrium is resetting in retail foodservice. In order to edify the brand and reinforce consumer relevance restaurateurs must leverage Foodservice Solutions® 5P's of food marketing

Many legacy food retailers continue to practice brand protectionism, stifle the brand while diminishing consumer relevance. The consumer is dynamic not static. Brands must be dynamic, evolving with the consumer. Four more years of watching other retail sectors thrive should be long enough. Success in the restaurant world is no longer simply about what happens within your 4 walls.

Steven Johnson is Grocerant Guru at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®, with extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, consultant, brand / product positioning expert and public speaking. Johnson, or

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Restaurant customers delight at new options while restaurant menu mavens cringe.

The tables are turning and consumers are finding innovation, excitement and sophisticated choice in fresh prepared food in Grocery Stores, Convenience Stores, and Chain Drug Stores.  This is complementing what they have for years found in restaurants.  The new paradox for consumers is where to shop? Grocery, Convenience stores or Drug Stores or take away from restaurants.

I will list three sets of menu items; A, B, C.  The first person to Email me and list in order which sector each menu grouping came from will win a Starbucks gift card.  The sectors of choice are: Grocery, Convenience Stores and Restaurants. Email:

Grouping A:
  1. Potato Crusted Dijon Salmon
  2. Corned Beef & Cheddar on Rye
  3. Red Pepper Risotto
  4. California Chicken Salad

Grouping B:
  1.  Lager Battered Fried Shrimp
  2. Sweet Potato Salad
  3. Wild Mushroom Farro
  4. Almond Cream Torte

Grouping C:
  1. Pasta with Vodka Blush sauce
  2. Edamame Succotash
  3. Turkey Club on Flatbread
  4. Raspberry-White Chocolate Cake

Its 4 PM: your customers are just beginning to think about what's for dinner. 81% of American consumers are unsure about what's for dinner. Time Starved Consumers are looking for high quality ready-2- eat foods and heat-N-meals. Is your brand top of mind?  Are your customers buying from a new point of fresh food distribution? Foodservice Solutions® can help.

Since 1991 retail food consultancy Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche. For brand or positioning experts contact: Foodservice Solutions® Bing or Google Grocerants or visit, Email:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How can you tell if the Burger sector is about to peak?

There is no doubt that consumer love burgers.  There is one problem however you can buy a burger from Quick Service Restaurant, Quick Casual Restaurant, Casual Restaurant, Full Service High End Restaurant, Convenience Store, Grocery stores both fresh prepared and frozen and Vending Machines. 

Within the retail food sector there are four universal commonalities that when all four converge generally you will find the top of any trend. Here are those there universal commonalities:

1.       When legacy food research companies come out and tout new research showing sector growth in new units built but per-unit volumes slipping within the sector.
2.       When Beef (core product) consumption per person is on the decline. That will create additional consternation within the sector. Beef consumption per person is in the U.S. is in decline.
3.       When retail trade magazines run story after story of “successful” new burger chains expanding via franchising (using others people’s money) to fuel growth.
4.       Local and National newspapers and blogs run poles on overrated and underrated burger’s at restaurants.

During the past 4 decades hamburgers drove sales and propelled the overall restaurant industry. Without a doubt the hamburger is now globally recognized as a penultimate American food. It is ready-2-eat, hand held and prepared to eat on the run; convenient, simple and affordable. Consumers know what they are getting and feel safe when ordering a burger out. Contrary to popular belief all Americans do not eat hamburgers daily. Universal commonalities 1, 2, and 3 all readers of this blog know are true and underway because they have been following the success of the grocerant niche here.

That being said, last week in St. Louis, River Front Times reporter Ian Froeb ran a pole asking readers to vote on the most overrated burger in St. Louis. They were looking for local burger joints, but were surprised by the voluminous response to the pole and the number of respondents that wanted to list “chain” restaurants as well that chain was Smashburger.  What is important is the “main stream media” is out front on this topic and will continue until we see clear winners and losers. Who do you think is overrated?

There simply is not room in the minds-eye of the consumer for all of the hamburger chains in America today. That is simply another reason that the growth of the grocerant niche will continue to garner market share. Yes, burger chains are included in the niche but will play a supporting role moving forward.

Invite Foodservice Solutions® to complete a grocerant program assessment, brand, product placement or positioning assistance.  Since 1991 Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit Johnson, or

Monday, June 18, 2012

The evolving food consumer thinks less cooking is better.

Consumers today are less interested in cooking from scratch.  The goal of most consumers is to prepare a meal utilizing ready-2-eat or heat-N-eat meal components.  Specifically bundling a meal of family favorites in a mix and match fashion.  The components can come from a restaurant, grocery stores or dollar stores it’s a well-researched and established niche called the grocerant niche.

Restaurants need to show an ever increasing amount of flexibility in meal bundling, meal component offerings and LTO options. Consumer desire to mix and match component s creating personalized meals will rule the day. However those options/substitutions should be limited to existing offerings only.

Grocery stores need to offer and ever increasing number of fresh prepared meals bundled to-go or for take-away.  The ability of consumer to select entrée’s, side orders, deserts and beverages from a limited number but rotating offerings is key to building customer frequency.

Dollar stores will continue to increase fresh food offering first with more and more produce, dairy and breads. Increasingly we will see more and more individual meal component offerings both branded and private label at Dollar stores.

Invite Foodservice Solutions® to complete a grocerant program assessment, brand, product placement or positioning assistance.  Since 1991 Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit Johnson, or