2020 Grocery Trends: In-Store Cooking Service

There’s a common consumer problem in grocery stores (thought it’s not as much of a problem for grocers!). As they’re wandering through the aisles, trying to decide what they want to eat for dinner later that night, they find themselves growing hungrier, and throwing snack items into their cart, giving into their cravings through their purchases.

When they get home later, they dive into their snacks and dinner becomes a distant thought. 

What if grocers could satiate both of these customer needs – real-time hunger and a wholesome meal? 

That’s what innovative grocers have been chasing over the past few years, and now the trend is becoming widespread. The grocery industry has latched onto the idea of in-store cooking services – and they aren’t letting go.

 

What’s the deal with in-store cooking at grocery stores?

When we say in-store cooking, we don’t mean the typical hot bar or deli options. Many grocers are taking convenience to the next level by adding in grilling stations, hand-rolled sushi counters, and more. They’re investing in trained chefs who can put together a satisfying, and often dietitian-approved, meal for their customers as they look on.

Grocery stores aren’t just grocery stores anymore – they’re competing with fast casual dining. After all, high end customers are flocking to grocery stores for an experience, for healthy and wholesome options, and for high-quality ingredients. If a grocer can add in an opportunity for them to interact with a talented chef who is using their store’s inventory to create a mind blowingly good meal right in-store, they’re tapping into all three of those customer desires.

 

Who should we look to for success stories?

Mariano’s is one of the best in class examples of in-store cooking services. The grocer installed grilling stations in many of its stores – dubbed #MyMarianos – that grilled prime cut meats and fresh seafood right there in front of customers. The stations reached their peak popularity in 2015. Unfortunately, the program has been phased out, but not without creating interest among the industry.

Gelson’s is another early adopter of grilling stations, and Whole Foods has even gotten in on the in-store cooking service trend.

 

What are the pros and cons of in-store cooking services for grocers?

As you may guess, the experience of seeing your food cooked in front of you by a trained chef is a major benefit of in-store cooking services. It makes customers feel like they are being treated, that they are not only getting a convenient meal, but something that is healthy and fresh. Customers can interact with your staff, asking them questions about cooking techniques that they may be able to recreate at home with the ingredients that they’ll purchase in your store. 

In addition, these services can be personalized to local cuisine and shopping habits. For example, a gulf coast grocer may invest in seafood stations, while a Midwest grocery store owner could opt for a focus on beef dishes.

As mentioned in the Mariano’s example, in-store cooking services aren’t always a slam dunk. They’re often expensive, creating extra overhead with the addition of cooking staff and equipment installation, maintenance, and repairs. While grocers may be enticed by the elevated experience an in-store cooking service could provide, they must also be aware that they may open themselves up to financial risk if food borne illness finds its way to their customers.