Show-and-sell strategy leads to hot foods program success

By Kim Camp, Learning Center Programs Manager and Justin Webster, Hillphoenix Design Center Specialist

Grocery shoppers love the convenience and variety of ready-to-eat meals. In response, about 75% of food retailers plan to set up self-service bars by early next year, according to a Supermarket News survey published in April.

But hot food program newbies have a few things to learn — like the fact that a high-quality hot foods program involves both art and science. Displays must be attractive. Food should look moist and freshly prepared, and also be safe and healthy. At our upcoming Supermarket Sense conference, Sept. 22-23, we’ll dive deep into how to execute a hot food program effectively. To whet your appetite for that session, we’ve compiled a few common-sense tips for success:

  • Hot service/self-service cases are designed to hold food temperatures steady. They do not increase or improve the temperature of food (which would cause drying or overcooking). So, move food from the oven or stove the hot holding case within 10 minutes to maintain proper display temperature — generally 150 degrees Fahrenheit for most foods.
  • You want to sell hot food within an hour of putting it on display (although some prepared foods — like soups and rotisserie chicken — can safely stay in heated cases longer). This show-and-sell philosophy should drive every aspect of your hot foods program. For example, schedule hot food distribution at high-traffic times in your store. And don’t use 4-inch deep pans unless you know the food piled into it is in demand and will disappear within 60 minutes.
  • Finally, here are a few not-to-dos: Never place food in a pan within a pan. It insulates the product and reduces heat conduction, so food won’t retain the proper temperature. Don’t leave open spaces between pans in your display case. Open spaces work like chimneys, allowing heat to rise and dry out food more quickly. And don’t cover food with lids or plastic wrap! This is a mistake we see in supermarkets all the time because workers believe lids and plastic wrap preserve freshness. In reality, they increase heat, so food overcooks.

We look forward to sharing more hot food strategies Sept. 22-23 at Supermarket Sense. See you there!

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