Slideshow: Meal solution revolution a highlight of Expo West

by Donna Berry
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ANAHEIM, CALIF. — The Natural Marketing Institute (N.M.I.), Harleysville, Pa., and The Nielsen Co., Chicago, presented “Game changers, future trends in health and sustainability” at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim on March 7. Speakers confirmed what most food and beverage marketers have long suspected — The retail landscape is changing as consumers demand more in terms of convenience and value from the fresh and packaged foods they purchase through supermarkets and related channels.

A critical component of convenience and value is better-for-you. Around the nation, new retail players are emerging that speak to the health- and wellness-seeking consumer. To help stock their shelves, food and beverage companies are introducing easily merchandised products that appeal to this growing demographic. Numerous such products were on display at the show.

The store front

Convenience and value is what’s driving growth in store count, according to Nielsen data. New, often smaller-store concepts are opening, especially in densely populated urban areas, in order to meet the needs of on-the-go consumers who prefer to purchase foods from a grocer rather than a fast-food or quick-service restaurant chain.

 

Except for mass merchandisers, all store formats experienced an increase in unit number in 2013, as compared to 2014, reports Nielsen. Among mainstream supermarkets, unit growth came from niche formats, such as natural products retailers, produce/fresh foods-centric concepts and discount private label chains. Examples include Save-A-Lot, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

In 2013, Aldi reported having 1,283 units. The company plans to open 650 more stores by 2018. Whole Foods Market, with 353 units open for business in 2013, has plans for 1,200 additional units in the near future.

Natural-gourmet formats, such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Fresh Market and Sprout, experienced the most growth in share of dollar sales in 2013. This growth is expected to continue. Limited-assortment deep discounters such as Save-A-Lot and Aldi also experienced an increase in share of dollar sales. Both channels stole share from mainstream supermarkets. Improving health and wellness offerings is how mainstream supermarkets may maintain or gain back share in the near future.

Compared to mainstream supermarkets, natural-gourmet formats do a better job of offering foods that are closer to the point of consumption. Such prepared foods present a significant opportunity for growth through all channels. It’s not just pizza, sushi and salads that sell well. Growth is coming from prepared chicken, soups, appetizers and dips/spreads/toppings. The consumer tends to view the latter, when purchased at the deli counter or the self-serve deli, as being fresher or premium, as compared to similar commercially packaged products sold in the dairy or ambient condiment aisle. Ready-to-eat snack and meal kits also are becoming increasingly popular, especially in the convenience store and drug store channels. 

New on the shelf

Move over Oscar Mayer Lunchables. There are two new better-for-you options with adult and child appeal.

Lunch Bundle, Vergennes, Vt., markets a line of namesake meal/snack kits designed to satisfy hunger pangs at any time of day. There are four varieties that include the Bagelator that consists of baked bagel chips, low-fat cream cheese, fruit mix, milk chocolate-covered pretzels, vegetable sticks and multigrain cereal crisps; the Decker that includes turkey, whole grain crackers, cheddar cheese, trail mix, chocolate-covered pretzels and vegetable sticks; the Pizza Dipper, which features cheddar crisps, mozzarella cheese, marinara, Fuji apple crisps and dark chocolate-covered raisins; and the Powerfood Energy Pack that includes crackers, cheddar cheese, almonds, vegetable sticks, roasted chickpeas and fava beans, trail mix and Fuji apple crisps.

 

Julianna Doherty, Lunch Bundle founder, said moms are busy people who want convenient solutions.

“They want to spend more time actually raising their kids and less time shopping and making snacks and lunches for them,” she said. “But they don’t want to sacrifice nutrition and health in the process. That’s where Lunch Bundles come in.

“Lunchables is approximately a $1 billion category,” she said. “But moms will tell you that they don’t feel good about buying them. Kids will tell you that the food does not really live up to the packaging.”

Ms. Doherty, a mother of four, believes other moms and their children will find Lunch Bundles to be an attractive alternative.

Lunch Bundles have a suggested retail price of $4.49. Current distribution is with select retailers in Northern California and throughout New England.

Revolution Foods Inc., Oakland, Calif., offers namesake meal kits with components that visually resemble items found in Lunchables, just without anything perceived as being artificial. Labels tout the fact the nitrate/nitrite-free meats come from animals raised without antibiotics. The cheese is made from milk from cows that never received any artificial growth hormones.

The kits come in four varieties, all of which contain 6 to 15 grams of protein and 7 to 16 grams of whole grains per kit, depending on variety. Each kit also contains one serving of fruit in the form of a 100% fruit snack. Varieties are: Cheese pizza, ham and cheddar, peanut butter and jelly, and turkey and cheddar.

Revolution Foods was founded and is run by two mothers whose goal is to get healthier foods into the lunchboxes of children … and elsewhere. The meal kits are available through the Safeway chain and select retailers nationwide. They have a suggested retail price of $3.49 to 3.99. The company also serves more than one million freshly prepared meals every week to K-12 schools nationwide.

Two River Foods, Lyons, Colo., markets Solbites, a snack line of crackers with two side-by-side spreads. Varieties are: Almond butter and no-mess honey, chocolate peanut butter and strawberry, and peanut butter and strawberry. The kits come in convenient shelf-merchandising trays that contain eight snack packs. A 2-oz kit contains 200 to 240 calories, 10 to 12 grams of fat and 5 to 6 grams of protein, depending on variety. A pack has a suggested retail price of $1.99.

Milas Foods L.L.C., Fair Lawn, N.J., now offers its imported-from-Turkey Dipin hummus dip in a snack pack with miniature crackers. Each pack contains 1.42 oz of hummus along with 0.88 oz of gourmet miniature wheat and sesame crackers. The lunchbox-friendly kits do not require refrigeration.

Rush Bowls, Boulder, Colo., grows its “Blended fruit + gluten-free granola topping” line with a snack-size portion. Both sizes are distributed and sold frozen. The consumer simply thaws, tops the fruit with the packet of granola, and eats.

The “under 125-calorie” snack packs come in three varieties: Energy Bowl-a blend of strawberries, cherries and apple juice; Oasis Bowl-a blend of coconut milk, peach juice, pineapple and mango; and Power Bowl-a blend of blueberries, raspberries, banana and soy milk.

The “under 300 calorie” meal size contains two additional varieties, including: Beach Bowl-acai, mango, banana and guava juice; and Yoga Bowl-green tea, pineapple, mango and banana.

With more and more better-for-you single-serve packaged foods rolling out into the marketplace, the retail landscape will continue to evolve, further blurring the distinction between different channels. Expect to see more niche supermarkets emerge, while natural product and fresh market concepts proliferate. Health and wellness is changing the way Americans shop for food and beverage.
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