Grab and Go – Driving Visible Change at the Deli Counter

Convenience, quality and portability are what matter in today’s grab and go sections

There are a few enduring truths that impact just about every aspect of food retailing. While packaging and presentation may stimulate trial, it’s overall culinary enjoyment and nutritional benefits that will keep buyers coming back for more. Of course, providing value (price and performance combined) is equally important, albeit subjective. There is, however, one still-emerging and highly influential trend that is creating a more level playing field.

Today’s consumers are looking for ways to satisfy their cravings, both at traditional mealtimes as well as for snacking, in ways that are fast, convenient and worry free. In response, food retailers are creating and stocking products that resonate effectively with their key buyers, promise and effectively deliver value, and represent time saving convenience. Commonly known as “grab and go,” this latest retail phenomenon is driving visible change, especially at the deli counter.

According to recently published statistics from London-based research firm Mintel, more than 70 percent of grocery shoppers report they do all of their shopping in-store. Even shoppers aged 18-34, known for their technology-driven preferences, are likely to do most or all of their grocery shopping in-store.

Mintel also reports that on-the-go consumers looking for grab and go mealtime and snacking solutions are expecting higher levels of quality and options that align with their dietary agenda and lifestyles.

The bottom line, repeated by operators across every category and channel, is that grab and go isn’t going away any time soon.

Variety Has It

Knowing that the concept of grab and go is intended to be a time saving and stress free experience, retailers must offer a wide variety of foods catering to a broad spectrum of culinary preferences that are fully prepared, conveniently packaged and ready to go without the need for uncomfortable delays at the service counter or having to stand in time-consuming lines. They must also merchandise these products in a manner that makes them easy to find and quickly understood.

With this in mind, especially since deli departments have been expanding their scope of service to include higher quality and ethnically-inspired prepared foods, there is an undeniable opportunity to engage with, and provide fresh, flavorful and quality-oriented mealtime and snacking solutions to a sizeable audience.

According to Tal Shoshan, CEO at Chattanooga, TN-based Five Star Foods, makers of Simply Fresh salads, snack and meal kits, “Convenience is single-handedly driving growth in the category. Consumers are time-starved and looking for meal solutions that are checking multiple boxes—taste, portion control, value and convenience. In response, we deliver a vertically integrated program from field to fresh grab and go products that meets the needs of the entire family.

When asked about the relatively short shelf life of some grab and go products, Shoshan continues “Managing short shelf life products is always challenging for both retailers and suppliers. It can be a deterrent. We are finding, however, that most retailers have found ways to manage these issues, are embracing our product lines and are increasingly more successful in bringing fresh and innovative grab and go items to their shoppers.”

One of the more noticeable grab and go options gaining popularity is mealtime kits. There are dip kits (hummus and guacamole are increasingly popular in this configuration), snack kits (combinations of sliced cheese, sliced meats, sliced fresh fruit, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, cookies and/or candies) and sandwich kits.

It’s also clear that the growing demand for more exotic and esoteric flavors is influencing the way that grab and go salads and sandwiches are being prepared. While long time standards, including ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Blue cheese, ranch, Caesar, balsamic and coleslaw, still dominate the landscape, flavors that embrace Latino, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian and North African influences, including sriracha, cilantro, ginger, harissa and gochujang, are finding receptive audiences.

For on the go consumers, sandwiches and wraps are in constant demand. That being said, ethnically-inspired hand-held preparations, such as empanadas, burritos, tamales, sushi, spring rolls and summer rolls, have been finding their way into supermarket deli offerings.

An All-day Affair

It’s important to keep in mind that grab and go provides convenient meal options for all day parts. As such, preparations that include traditional breakfast ingredients should not be overlooked.

“Buyers can’t get enough breakfast items,” says Todd Martin, co-founder and executive vice president, customer development, for Arizona’s Tucson Tamale. “When it comes to grab and go, we’re seeing obvious demand for these items, along with greater variety overall.”

Many bakeries are modifying their production to include, not only full-size breads, cakes and pies, but single-serve offerings, as well. One such producer, known for sandwich breads and sweet baked goods, is St. Pierre, based in Manchester, England. Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Groupe, explains “ We’ve just launched the St Pierre On the Go range to satisfy the growing demand for grab and go items. We wanted to create a broad range of products to satisfy consumers throughout the day—morning, afternoon or night—with a combination of bestsellers like our Waffles and Crepes as well as new products like the Rocky Road Bar and Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bar.”

There’s also a sizeable assortment of single-serve products typically found in center aisles that can be merchandised in the deli department as part of grab and go offerings. Products including chips, pretzels, nuts, crackers, fruit cups and energy bars can all be cross promoted, making it easier for shoppers to organize their purchases without having to traverse the entire store. While enticing buyers into the aisles may generate additional revenue, providing an efficient and convenient shopping experience is paramount.

In order to create a broader range of grab and go offerings in-store, and eliminate waiting time at the service counter, retailers are employing a wider range of packaging configurations, including single-serve snack packs, multi-serve party platters and containers featuring multiple cavities for meal kits, multi-part salads and snack combos.

Hope Ramseyer, marketing communications manager for Display Pack, based in Cedar Springs, MI, explains, “We’re working with customers to launch unique, brand-specific items. Our customers are acutely aware that success in the grab and go arena is dependent on catching the consumer’s eye on the store shelf and then delivering a positive branded experience.

When asked about untapped opportunity for grab and go products, she continues, “Convenience is the number one growing food industry trend. We’re helping brand owners capitalize on this trend with grab and go packaging solutions optimized for their production processes and effective merchandising on store shelves.” While the majority of grab and go products are refrigerated, she makes a noteworthy suggestion. “Deli counters that traditionally offer warm food from behind the service counter could benefit from warmed meal kits merchandised on their own.”

Without a doubt, the addition of an attractive self-service case stocked with an assortment of packaged foods and beverages, both hot and cold, can create extra revenue without a lot of dedicated labor or operational complexity.

The Packaging Factor

Of course, retailers must anticipate more than just merchandising and display options to create meaningful and productive grab and go experiences. In this regard, Madison, WI-based Placon offers grab and go packaging solutions that come with vented or non-vented lids, anticipate modular stacking, have easy to open tab mechanisms and can be reheated in the microwave.

Recognizing that many grab and go options include both wet and dry ingredients, or aromatic items that could negatively impact other foods in a meal kit, the company has developed packaging solutions that include inserts, internal lids and other such barriers to segregate foods prior to consumption. Going one step further, recognizing the attention that consumers give to environmental impact, many of these containers can be washed and reused. When properly disposed, they are completely recyclable.

Along with decisions relating to specific food offerings and packaging materials associated with them, supermarket deli managers may wish to explore ways to increase their capacity when preparing grab and go offerings in store. Eric Wangler, president and CEO at Jaccard Corp., a Rochester, NY-based company known for innovative product design, suggests, “When you look around today, consumers are pressed for time. Concurrently, our customers struggle to find workers and face escalating labor costs. Anything we can do to increase convenience and minimize labor drives value for both consumers and our customers. This is a major reason why the demand for our automated stacker slicers, and the production efficiencies they provide, is rapidly growing.”

Effective grab and go programs are built on a foundation of time-saving convenience. While portion size, packaging and merchandising are important, providing consistently enjoyable and satisfying culinary experiences is essential. Knowing that today’s shopper is is also seeking ways to maintain healthier and more active lifestyles, the products being stocked need to cater to these preferences, as well.There’s still tremendous opportunity in the shop and go arena. Whether retailers take advantage of both hot and refrigerated options, a larger number of ethnically- inspired foods or simply greater variety, the alternatives are considerable. DB