Demand Grows for Packaged Sales

Given current level of public concern over health issues, it’s hardly surprising more c-stores are increasing offerings of prepackaged goods, including sandwiches and baked products.

Even with prepackaged sandwiches, “stores need to be vigilant against contamination of any kind,” said environmental specialist and HACCP-Plus President Marsha Robbins, who added store employees must also be attentive about keeping sandwiches at proper temperatures from the moment of delivery.

Larry Bullis, category manager for La Platta, Md.-based Dash-In Food stores said sandwiches and bakery items in his stores are from a USDA-approved commissary that delivers them in refrigerated trucks. “Everything else we serve in our stores is processed before it comes to us, and we have a high-speed convection oven in every one of our stores,” Bullis said.

Successful prepackaged food merchandising is about display, said Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice for Rutter’s Farm Stores in York, Pa. “Grab-and-go sales have tripled since we moved products from 4-foot open-air cases to 6-foot-by-8-foot walk-around, open-air islands,” Weiner says. “Our sales just exploded.”

Prepackaged growth is also driving Rutter’s ancillary product sales, resulting in bigger check averages. “Sandwiches and salads went up proportionally, but the bulk of the increase is coming from ancillary products,” Weiner noted. “I went much deeper with the ancillary offering, something I couldn’t do before because I couldn’t present the products together.”

The format gives customers a large variety from which to choose, with everything ready to go. Rutter’s grab-and-go prepackaged sales success is leading Weiner to consider using the prepackaged format for other dayparts. He wants to target late-afternoon snack-seekers and is currently looking for items that fit the dinner segment.

“Because of the late-afternoon and early evening demand, I think dinner is our next big opportunity,” Weiner said. “There are dollars being left on the table, and once we convince customers our options offer them a quality product at a good price and speed of service, we can harvest those opportunities.”

While sandwiches are an important prepackaged offering, packaged comfort foods continue to gain market share, new research from Mintel reports. Sales of Kraft’s macaroni and cheese dinners are up “double digits” from the same period last year, according to the company’s earnings statement. Moreover, Mintel said 92% of Americans eat pasta, and one in six say they’re eating more pasta this year because it’s such an economical choice during challenging financial times.

However, another Mintel report showed that though weight and health are major issues in today’s society, interest in portion-controlled packaging is lagging. Only one in seven adults (14%) currently buy pre-measured packs, and the number one reason is convenience, not weight management.

For example, half of those polled by Mintel who don’t buy 100-calorie packs  of cookies and other baked goods said they just aren’t interested, and another third  said they prefer measuring out their own portions.

On the other hand, a Nielsen study shows that almost half of U.S. consumers would choose environmentally sensitive packaging over convenience when buying packaged foods, with 48% willing to give up a cook-in-the-package feature, 55% willing to give up a reusable storage container and 47% willing to do without packaging that’s easy to transport.

However, study respondents voiced a clear desire to retain packaging that protects food: only 34% would willingly do without packaging that keeps food fresh longer and only 27% would consider doing without packaging that keeps food clean and untouched.

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