Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Will Albertsons Focus on Grocerant Meals

Optimism returns to the foodservice industry as COVID-19 vaccinations pick-up steam all around the U.S. according to Steven Johnson, Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®. Hotel and restaurant workers can’t wait for the full reopening of locations.  There are 29 restaurants for every grocery store in the U.S. and grocery store,. Grocery employees are eager for their workload to return to post pandemic levels so they can catch a break.

Back in the day my friend Ron Paul founder and President of Technomic coined the term, home meal replacement (HMR) to describe why the outstanding success of Boston Chicken / Boston Market and why they had driving sales and customer migration success.  At that time Technomic had industry leading insights, did the work, that laid the laid the foundation for what is now termed the Grocerant niche.

Back in the day (1993- 1999) food Industry research focused on HMR.  While industry leading conferences and seminars all touted the newest, hottest, HMR research insights to garner participants. Ron Paul’s team insights would receive high marks from Titians of the Grocery store sector, leaders in the convenience store sector, and accolades from chain restaurant C-suites.

There was one common undercurrent of discontent from every sector at the time.  That was it was too expensive to adapt too the recommendations. Given the CEO’s moto, do no harm, they did little, but talk loudly, and talk it up. However, few back in the day moved forward with any seriousness while slowly testing the 'HMR' sector. 

Today, grocery store rotisserie chicken has taken center stage in most grocery stores service deli’s as a grocerant niche Ready-2-Eat and Heat-N-Eat staple.  Our own Grocerant Guru® continues to be disappointed with the quality of the product, and price at most grocery stores but believes it is the foundation for continued growth within that sector for the grocery store sector. 

Johnson credits both Ron Paul (Technomic) and Scott Beck (CEO 1991 of Boston Chicken / Market) for encouraging him to focus on Grocerant niche meal solutions.  Johnson did, and now Foodservice Solutions® and Johnson are both recognized as the global leaders.  Beck understood the consumer touchpoints driving customer migration better than anyone back in the day or today according to Johnson.

Battle for Share of Stomach

Albertson’s like all grocery stores at the time entered home meal replacement niche halfheartedly and failed, the slipped back doing what they always did, accepting slotting fees, and placed items on the shelf. 

Then came the next wave of HMR as grocery stores learned some were succeeding, then they all rushed to reentered once again. This time the research industry evolved as well creating a new name for the niche convenient meal solutions  (CMS)  It was simply updated HRM data repacked to garner increased food industry excitement and incremental attendance at industry conferences and seminars according to Johnson.

2021 will be challenging for all grocery stores including Albertsons Cos. Now after 28 years Albertsons President and CEO Vivek Sankaran agrees that meals are an increasingly important driver of growth in grocery.   Sankaran stated, “We are going to get into the meals business. [And] I think you’ll see more of the restaurant business and the supermarket business converging,” Yes, once again they realize customer touchpoints matter. 

Outnumbered by 29 restaurants for every grocery store, full of with consumer tired of being forced to cook at home during the pandemic Albertsons own consumer insights must point to the grocerant niche.  That said, when the HMR info was replaced with CMS, convenient meal solutions, that was because rather than offering fresh prepared food, grocers wanted to sell CPG food.  They wanted to do what they always did.  So they made fresh prepared food into a packaged product. 

That did not work.  Researchers tailored studies to give grocers the what they wanted.  That’s how some research companies stay in business at the time.  They tailored the info too focus on CMS, simultaneously down playing the fresh prepared food focus. Guess what that did not help anyone consumer continued to migrate to fresh food fast driving growth in the restaurant sector. 

The team at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® did not do that.  The question everyone has to ask today is will Albertson’s talk fresh but deliver a CPG product?  If you look at companies the ilk of Kroger or Hy-Vee the odds are the messaging will be there but the grocerant niche fresh prepared food in large part won’t be according to Johnson.

Regular readers of this blog know that Sally the Robot is a compact salad-making machine. About the size of a vending machine, Sally dispenses a full menu of salads, along with customizable options. Spurred by a need for safer self-serve experiences in vertical markets like grocery, Hayward, Calif.-based Chowbotics has also developed a mobile app for fast, contactless ordering through Sally edifying relevant consumer touchpoints. 

The team at Foodservice Solutions® wonders out loud if Sally the Robot will do a better job with delivering grocerant niche Ready-2-Eat and Heat-N-Eat fresh food than Albertson’s.  Will slotting fee’s once again derail the grocery sectors success selling meals? 

Invite Foodservice Solutions® to complete a Grocerant Program Assessment, Grocerant ScoreCard, or for product positioning or placement assistance, or call our Grocerant Guru®.  Since 1991 Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma, WA has been the global leader in the Grocerant Niche. 

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