Prepared Foods Sales Are Up

Hungry consumers still eat on the run.

January 09, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—New research into consumer behavior finds that 66% of consumers buy prepared food items from a retail location at least three times a month, an 11% increase over 2017, reports

According to a study by Technomic, a management consulting company, 73% of retail prepared food purchases are taken to go, and 47% of respondents consume their purchase immediately rather than saving it for later. Among grocery delivery users, 71% of respondents said they would add a prepared food item to their orders, at least occasionally, if it were available.

The research found that prepared food purchases are planned by 59% of shoppers, while 41% said they buy prepared foods on impulse. Dinnertime sees the highest amount of prepared food buys, with 79% of respondents making purchases for that meal. Lunch came in at 77% and breakfast at 62%.

The demand for prepared food has encouraged many retailers to expand their offerings. Stop & Shop recently added wing bars to 187 locations, each featuring eight varieties of wings, and Whole Foods began stocking ready-to-eat meals from Snap Kitchen late last year. Some grocers have installed restaurants in-house. Recently, Kroger brought Ohio-based Rapid Fire Pizza and Tony Packo’s hot dog stands to some locations, while Hy-Vee operates several Wahlburger’s restaurants adjacent to its stores.

Grocery stores have just begun to explore the opportunities of prepared food delivery. Some retailers, including Costco, H-E-B and Meijer, have added ready-to-eat options to their online offerings. Wegmans offers an e-commerce meal delivery service dubbed Wegmans Meals 2GO, and Public uses Instacart to delivery its famous Pub Subs, along with assorted hot foods.

But prepared foods are just one piece of the larger retail foodservice picture, said Bret Yonke, manager of consumer insights at Technomic. "Moving forward, full-service restaurant and food hall experiences will begin to roll out more frequently, which is likely to encourage consumers to consider retail foodservice for a wider variety of occasions," he said.