It has been a rough road for some food retailers ever since the pandemic hit. Some grocery departments like fresh produce, meat, and center store have been booming, while self-service areas have predominantly dipped in sales.
For self-service areas like food bars that have been frowned upon due to health and sanitary concerns, its present state is uncertain. But, will it have a better future?
Road to Recovery
Since the pandemic hit, retailers have seen a steady surge in sales for the center store and produce department; however, the situation is far different for food bars and deli prepared. According to 210 Analytics, deli prepared dollar sales performance fell off to -47% in April this year versus the last year. Though deli prepared sales performance has not yet come back as some other food categories have, it’s moving towards the road to recovery with -19% sales in July.
Flexibility is the Key
Due to safety regulations, grocery stores are limiting touchpoints, and food bars are one of the obvious areas to eliminate or regulate. However, to make use of the equipment and not put the self-serve section to waste, retailers are getting creative and finding flexibility with their equipment.
• Instead of customers serving themselves at the food bars, retailers rearranged the process. They turned it from a self-service food bar to a service food bar where only the employees behind a chef’s case and wearing masks and gloves are allowed to serve customers and put together the food items they choose.
• Some retailers are also reimagining merchandising strategies on how they could utilize their existing equipment in the meantime. Some of these ways include small changes to food bars for minimal cost like completely removing pans and divider bars from refrigerated sections on a food bar and utilizing the other half of a double-sided, shop around food bar as a service station with a pass-through chute. And since pre-packaged foods are on the rise, retailers could utilize their hot and cold bars for displaying such food products as well.
• For hot food bars, add a hot tile over the top of the well and now you’ve created a hot, grab-and-go bar for customers. When doing this, make sure that you have packaging that is designed for hot applications
The future of food bars, though uncertain, will partially depend on how resilient we are in the food retail industry paired with the right strategies. However, knowing how far we’ve already come in the community when it comes to food retail innovations and challenges we have surpassed, it is right to say that for the future, we have a fighting chance.