Should grocers back away from prepared meals?
Customers are hitting prepared food bars at grocery stores like never before. But the increased demand for meals that are fresh, complicated and fast has started to create problems for grocers. At an increasing rate, fresh offerings are making people sick.
Difficulties in maintaining reliable food safety recently caused Whole Foods to temporarily close down one of its kitchens that prepares fresh meals for stores, according to The Wall Street Journal. In the wake of the shutdown, which Whole Foods undertook after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned about food safety gaps, the retailer has stopped processing meat, raw poultry and seafood in that and two other facilities.
Employee turnover in grocery and increased cooking demands can create an environment in which grocers have difficulty maintaining safety standards, the Journal observes. According to the CDC, incidences of foodborne illnesses tied to U.S. supermarkets more than doubled between 2014 and 2015.
Consumer demand for minimally processed, healthy foods has put other parts of the foodservice world on shaky ground. Fast-casual Mexican restaurant Chipotle, most notably, was responsible for a rash of norovirus and E. coli outbreaks this year and last. Despite its attempts to win back customers with free burritos and even free or discounted alcoholic beverages, the chain — once at the forefront of providing fresh ingredients for fast-casual diners — is still reeling from the PR nightmare.
The demand for fresh food options has inspired foodservice initiatives from convenience stores as well, according to a blog by The Food Institute. A study indicated that around 93 percent of c-store operators saw foodservice sales increase in 2015. The blog noted that some c-stores are refocusing on food as they shift away from tobacco.
- Grocers Tackle New Food-Safety Issues as Tastes Grow for Prepared Meals – Wall Street Journal
- Will Chipotle recover from outbreaks and a criminal probe? – RetailWire
- Will happy hour deals bring Chipotle’s customers back? – RetailWire
- C-Stores Expand Food Offerings, Acquire Rival Chains – The Food Institute
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can grocers safely meet the demand for high-end, fresh prepared meals? Do some grocers need to back away from more complicated fresh items, despite their popularity?