Grab-and-Go is Here to Stay

This segment is expected to expand in the era of COVID-19

Pre-packaged sandwiches displayed in a commercial refrigerator

Consumers are moving faster in their daily lives than ever before and need to have products that can provide quick meals as well as sides. These are the same consumers who are looking for better-for-you options when at the grocery store, but they do not just want a quick meal or snack option; they want something that they feel good about putting into their bodies.

That’s why supermarket delis offering grab-and-go items are finding success.

Pierre Chammas, CEO of Steve’s Mediterranean Chef, headquartered in Madison Heights, MI, has seen a push for grab-and-go foods throughout the grocery industry over the past few years.

“I attribute this to the younger generations, like Gen-Z and Millennials, balancing many different things and being more ‘on-the-go,’” he says. “This has made these more portable meal options favorable to them as they are often bouncing to and from different daily activities. These consumers have demanded easy, better-for-you options that fit their lifestyle, and companies have answered accordingly.”

For instance, Steve’s Mediterranean Chef offers multiple grab-and-go options and many that can be used in different ways, including dips, spreads and sauces.

“Our line includes trustworthy products that consumers feel good about buying, but also fit into their lifestyle,” Chammas says.

He believes dips will continue to be a staple of the grab-and-go category, but that more versatile products are currently in demand.

“Examples of this are layering hummus into a sandwich and dipping vegetables or chips into a garlic sauce,” says Chammas. “This is how we are reshaping the way our consumers see and use these staple ingredients. They can be used to amplify any meal with added flavor and nutrients.”

Jim Viti, vice president of sales for Utica, NY-based DeIorio’s Frozen Dough, characterizes the ideal grab-and-go deli item to be something easy to obtain and quick to consume, with no preparation and easy packaging disposal.

For instance, DeIorio’s ‘hall-of-fame classic’ item would be pizza by the slice on a disposable plate with a napkin.

“Fruit and veggie cups, quick carbs or proteins would lead the group of health-style classic items,” says Viti. “Items that are convenient and can meet specific dietary needs are up and coming. The ability to provide a quick, self-indulgent, but healthy snack is ideal in these times. An example would be a serving of cauliflower parmesan breadsticks with a side of marinara sauce in an easy recycle container.”

Simone Bocchini, president of Fratelli Beretta USA, based in Olive, NJ, notes grab-and-go together with snack-on-the-go has been a way for delis to identify portability and convenience for impulse buying at the supermarket level.

“The segment has been exploding lately with innovation and new concepts that combine not only meat and cheese, but other components,” he says. “Beretta played a big role in 2019 with the introduction of 27 different varieties of combinations under its Italian Style Snack and Italian Style Small Plate. Both are geared towards portability, pack protein and consist of a combination of artisanal salami, or prosciutto with different cheeses as well as nuts, dry fruits and crackers.”

Bocchini notes consumers are looking for more bold flavors and combinations in their grab-and-go choices. For Fratelli Beretta, this means relying less on regular salami, concentrating more on prosciutto and spicy salami and creating unusual flavor pairings.

“We are all familiar with lunchable and basic combinations that have been around for years; the push now is on alternative snacks with cleaner labels and ingredients,” he says.

Grab-and-go has been seeing increased demand for years but the COVID pandemic really sped up the transition. Consumers are concerned about product safety, and the less hands that touched the product, the better, so many of them have turned to pre-sliced or pre-chopped products that were made and packaged in the manufacturing plants.

“We have seen a shift of the deli counter abandoned to favor pre-pack items,” says Sebastien Lehembre, senior brand manager of Savencia Cheese USA, headquartered in New Holland, PA. “Consumers have shifted the ways they are shopping.”

Cheese Snacks Are Big

More and more delis are creating a snacking section featuring premium cheeses and creating a section for the consumer to shop.

Deborah Seife, marketing director, North America at Netherlands-based FrieslandCampina, notes that, over the last five years, the deli segment has started to offer more and more on-the-go premium cheese snacks, and the company responded with its Frico Grab and Go Gouda Snacks.

“Since 1898, Frico has been using traditional techniques to create delectable cheeses from the world-famous Frisian cow’s milk. Frico has an uncanny ability to create products that suit consumers’ tastes and lifestyles,” she says. “Having a cheese on hand that you can pair with anything is naturally a staple. Parrano’s selection of cheeses has a new Pair With Parrano theme to encourage consumers to pair with favorite at-home snacks for easy at home entertaining.”

Lehembre notes the snacking segment has seen a surge in grab-and-go items, because people enjoy the convenience of single-serve items and buying just what they need. That led to the company creating its Brie-style Supreme Bites.

“A few years back, we saw innovation in the dairy section of the grocery store with single-serve string cheese targeting mostly kids,” says Lehembre. “Soon enough, while looking at the deli, we realized there were very few offerings in the single-serve option in cheese. Not everybody wants a 6- to 8-ounce piece of cheese. It doesn’t mean that you should not be able to indulge, and that’s how we had the idea of having a unique soft-ripened cheese available for consumers.”

Deanna Depke, marketing manager for Volpi, based in St. Louis, notes integrating charcuterie into a grab-and-go assortment is a simple way to elevate offerings.

“Consumers are looking for indulgent treats that still provide functional benefits like protein, so including snacks made with charcuterie is the perfect way to reach different consumer segments and diversify your flavor offerings,” she says. “Staples like prosciutto and Genoa salame are a must. Volpi also crafts more niche products that have seen increased consumer demand as stay at home orders have sparked a bit of culinary curiosity—items like Bresaola, dry aged beef, guanciale, dry cured pork jowl and coppa all seem to be having a moment.”

Marketing Matters

Today’s consumers are looking to get more done in less time at the store, especially in the COVID-19 era. That’s why signs and marketing efforts should be placed in areas of the store that will not disrupt traffic flow and should be readily available throughout the dayparts.

“Nothing is more frustrating for a consumer than bypassing the convenience of a drive-thru to run into the store for their favorite grab-and-go healthy indulgence only to discover it is not available,” says Viti. “Easy access is key.”

Bocchini says it’s important to be creative in positioning the product in the supermarket deli.

Chammas says building relationships with buyers and incorporating the right marketing mix for grab-and-go items is key. This may include in-store demos, paid targeted advertising and communications of new products en mass.

“Word of mouth is not to be forgotten, as well,” he says. “I have always been one to put the product first. Throughout my life, I have always believed heavily in the products that I have produced and brought to the marketplace.”

Depke says charcuterie items are perfect for cross merchandising with complementary categories—specialty cheese, bread, fresh produce, wine and beer being categories that consumers purchase in tandem.

“By merchandising these items together, retailers can make it easy for their guests to shop while also increasing basket ring,” she says.

Marilyn Stapleton, director of marketing for Anchor Packaging, headquartered in St. Louis, notes more consumers may be aware of the high quality of prepared foods available in the deli during the pandemic, and merchandisers should take advantage of promoting their no-wait packaged hot meal solutions.

“Advertising hot meal options in grocery loyalty programs will remind consumers to continue to consider the store as a source for their ready-to-eat meals,” she says. “Crisp Food Technologies, combined with Nature’s Best Roasters, are perfect for hot-to-go deli offerings for the store shopper or online orders for curbside pick-up and home delivery.”

The Pulse on Packaging

When it comes to packaging, Bochhini says portability is extremely important, as the food needs to be easy to eat, manage and store. Therefore, a convenient format and correct weight size is vital.

The move to pre-packaged products for grab-and-go items can come at a cost, but many companies are doing what they can to minimize any environmental challenges.

“Standard deli packs are made entirely of single-use plastics that wreak havoc on our environment,” she says. “Volpi is proud to be the first in the industry to debut a paper-based packaging material on our pre-packed line of products. This material reduces single-use plastic by more than 70% compared to standard deli packs. We are thrilled to partner with retailers to lead our industry to a more sustainable deli.”

Peggy Cross, founder and CEO of EcoTensil Inc., based in Corte Madera, CA, notes as the pandemic has shaken the foundations of how we go about our day-to-day lives, people are reassessing how they want to rebuild and question outdated ways of doing things.

“Hence, we are seeing people focusing more on sustainable choices, despite the distraction of a pandemic,” she says. “This is where we see paper foodservice-ware playing an important role. As there are going to be some challenges with re-opening the grab-and-go salad bars, EcoTensil has been looking at several directions retailers are going and what innovations we can offer to support these efforts.”

In that regard, EcoTensil offers wrapped, on-package utensils to avoid self-serve utensil containers that, even if wrapped, many other consumers will touch.

“With hygiene being a top priority, the handling of utensils raises new concerns and complications,” says Cross. “Where salad bars are opening to self-serve, EcoTensil is developing our standard sturdy spoon into a larger serving utensil, which each customer uses and throws away at the end of the salad bar, so no one is sharing a serving utensil.”

Additionally, while sampling has always been a sure fire way to increase trial and purchase of new or promoted products, the new normal creates hygienic challenges in the current and post COVID world.

“Plastic sampling spoons come jumbled in a big bag, so the server is continuously touching all parts of the utensils,” says Cross. “Ecotensil paperboard utensils are well-suited for sanitary sampling. EcoTaster and EcoSpoons come perfectly lined up in clean dispenser boxes or banded in tidy stacks, with the handles all facing one direction. This means servers or customers only need to touch the handle and never the spoon area.”

Being Successful

Grab-and-go items, for the most part, are perishable items that require special handling to provide the most freshness, while minimizing spoilage. It requires a commitment from the operator to keep the merchandise well-stocked with a variety of new items as well as mainstays.

“You really need to have good customer flow and attract high impulse to be successful,” says Viti. “It’s all about moving product quickly and consistently. It is also about safety, keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. It is about providing secure packaging that travels well and is readily disposable and easy to recycle. There are many I’s to dot and T’s to cross, but if it  performed well, it will be a major driver to pull consumers away from competing venues and increase loyalty for your brand.”

One thing the experts agree on is that the grab-and-go segment is here to stay—even once the coronavirus crisis is over.

“I think it is positioned perfectly for post-pandemic,” says Viti. “Product safety will continue to be a top priority post-pandemic. An individually-portioned and wrapped healthy and/or indulgent snack or meal would serve consumers well as we gear back towards a new normal.”

Depke says similar to the digitalization of grocery store ordering, she expects the grab-and-go trend to persist into the future.

Chammas notes the pandemic has provided consumers with extra time to cook and make food from scratch but as they head back to their physical offices rather than their virtual ones, he believes the grab-and-go options will see a spike in category growth.

“Lifestyles will speed back up, and consumers will demand these items in their weekly trips to the store,” he says. “Meal prep will re-enter the conversation as consumers will once again be strapped for time.“ DB