Americans are flocking to supermarkets’ fresh food sections, and more comfortable buying these foods online, a new report says.
Forty percent of online sales are now attributed to fresh foods departments, according to FMI – The Food Industry Association inaugural The State of Fresh Foods report – a “major” change from previous trends, FMI Vice President of Fresh Foods Rick Stein said during FMI’s FreshForward event on 17 August.
Fresh department online sales rival sales of dry grocery items (41 percent) and frozen online sales (11 percent). While produce and meat make up the biggest share of fresh online sales at 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, seafood accounts for 2 percent of all fresh online sales.
“The pandemic changed Americans’ grocery shopping and cooking habits, with more of us enjoying meals at home with family members,” FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a press release. “These broad-level changes particularly impacted fresh foods departments, and even as we shift to more in-person activities, shoppers continue to rely on their grocery stores for fresh food items.”
Food retailers and suppliers are responding to the heightened consumer interest in fresh food items with “enhanced, affordable offerings – both in-store and online,” Sarasin added.
The post-pandemic shopping habit change, however, has recently shifted in light of increased inflation, according to a separate report. Fresh and frozen seafood sales declined in July – but whether that trend will continue or not remains to be seen.
Overall, FMI found that fresh seafood departments were one of the top ways grocers differentiated themselves to attract shoppers to their stores. Top product differentiation strategies leveraged by retailers include fresh prepared/foodservice programs (75 percent); produce programs, such as produce butcher and specialty produce (70 percent); in-store bakery (68 percent); meat/poultry programs, including service counter and custom cuts (65 percent); and seafood (60 percent).
Notably, 56 percent of grocers who used seafood as a differentiation strategy said they believed it was successful.
Plus, grocery operators believe in the future success of fresh seafood departments. Twenty-four percent of grocers said they plan to expand space for fresh seafood, while 65 percent said they would maintain the size of their meat departments. Only 5 percent plan to decrease space allocation for fresh seafood.
Another significant finding in the State of Fresh Foods Report is the increased emphasis retailers are putting on foodservice and prepared foods departments, Sarasin said.
Eighty-two percent are planning to grow the space allocation for fresh-prepared grab-and-go options, while others are increasing space for fresh-prepared chef made-to-order stations (35 percent) or fresh-prepared self-service ( 29 percent).
In addition, 44 percent of retailers are planning increased staff for foodservice, trained or certified chefs (22 percent), in-store dining (20 percent), and scratch bakers or pastry chefs (18 percent).
At numerous supermarket visits across the United States this summer, 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink said she noticed an increase in creative seafood prepared meals, along with “some very interesting promotional activity.”
For example, some grocery chains are selling marinated salmon on cedar planks and marinated “salmon pops.”
In the midst of grilling season, Roerink said several retailers were actively promoting seafood as part of their grilling set.
“Some had shrimp kebabs, salmon kebabs, or salmon ready for the grill,” she said, citing Coborn’s, Cub’s and Hy-Vee as examples of retailers effectively merchandising grilling options.
Some grocers also featured signage explaining to consumers how to grill seafood along with meat, Roerink added.
Despite consumer concern about inflation, more are seeking value-added, restaurant quality mealsaccording to Roerink.
Seafood suppliers can cater to consumers looking for value, healthfulness, and convenient meal solutions “by emphasizing solutions for all,” Roerink said.
“We already firmly play in healthfulness; consumers very much associate seafood with being generally healthy,” she said. “How can we offer cost-effective solutions and convenient ones?”
Meanwhile, FMI said grocers are experimenting with new consumer touchpoints, like in-store dining (51 percent), a coffee bar (39 percent), online ordering and pickup/delivery of foodservice offerings (33 percent), catering services (30 percent) , a juice bar (20 percent) and a full-service restaurant (13 percent).
“However, the success of these programs has been mixed,” FMI said.
Retailers report a success rate of as high as 60 percent for juice bars to as low as 13 percent for online ordering and pickup/delivery of foodservice offerings.
Photo courtesy of FMI – The Food Industry Association