Canadians are increasingly relying on foodservice for their everyday meals and as a result, Retail Meal Solutions (RMS) have become a prominent segment within the foodservice landscape. According to Maia Chang, senior research analyst, Consumer Insights for Technomic, consumers are choosing RMS options over restaurants due to the convenience, value and healthier perception associated with this segment. “We found that 40 per cent of consumers said the RMS at traditional supermarkets offers better value than fast-food restaurants,” she explains. “In [Technomic’s 2017 Canadian Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report], we found that nearly all consumers buy RMS from traditional super markets, but they’re also buying it at other retailers, like more upscale [markets], drugstores and c-stores.”
RMS purveyors have taken notice of changing consumer habits and competition is heating up. “We’re seeing improvement across the board — lots of innovation,” says Chang. “Just looking around, it seems like [RMS] is coming on-par with restaurant-quality food.” She adds that up-scale supermarkets are pushing their fare to match that of full-service restaurants, to the point
where you can buy an entire meal, complete with appetizers, entrée and dessert. “They also have lots of new and innovative [offerings] you’d expect to see at a full-service restaurant.”
This fact has not gone unnoticed at Toronto-based Pusateri’s Fine Foods. “We know our customers very well,” says Tony Cammalleri, corporate chef and senior category manager – Kitchen and Pre-pack at Pusateri’s Fine Foods. “They love comfort food, but at the same time, they travel the world, they go to some of the best restaurants, so they want grilled octopus, chimichurri or poké — things they’ve seen in restaurants.”
According to Cammalleri, Pusateri’s has been putting significant focus on expanding and updating its ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat offerings, which are allotted approximately 25 to 50 per cent of the floor space at each location. The gourmet grocery chain currently offers more than 500 RMS items and has recently brought some of its popular catering offerings down to the store level for customers to take home and enjoy. “It’s about going with the times and knowing that people are so busy these days, but they still don’t want to compromise on food quality,” says Cammalleri. “We give them a lot of different items they can mix-and-match or DIY, so they can take home a complete bundle — complete with sides, protein and vegetables.”
Players in the RMS segment can offer nearly endless options to busy customers, which is certainly an advantage over their restaurant competition. Although the old standbys of chicken, pizza and sandwiches remain the most popular RMS items, Chang notes that ethnic flavours and innovative offerings are among the key differentiators within this competitive market. National chains such as Loblaws have been actively expanding their RMS offerings to offer a wider variety of products. The brand’s CityMarket concept, which features ready-to-eat food from the company’s From-Our-Chefs line, a coffee shop, patisserie, made-in-store gelato, juice bar and an in-store dietitian. Fresh-made dishes by Vancouver chef Vikram Vij are even offered as part of the concept’s From-Our-Chefs lineup.
Asian and Italian dishes stand out as the most popular ethnic flavours in the RMS segment. In fact, Asian dishes are even gaining on chicken — an RMS mainstay. Technomic found that “54 per cent of consumers say they would be likely to order [RMS] chicken for lunch or dinner, while 44 per cent said they would [likely] order Asian food,” explains Chang. Sous Chef Marché Gourmand, in Westmont, Que. is something of a packaged-meals double-threat, offering not only house-made, restaurant-quality items, but fare directly from Antonio Park’s acclaimed sushi joint, Park. “We [offer] Asian salads, maki and sashimi fresh every day from Park,” explains Arin Gintowt, manager at Sous Chef, who notes that these items are among its most popular offerings, after salads and sandwiches. Formerly Marché Park, the gourmet market recently underwent rebranding and redirected its focus to put more emphasis on its RMS business. “Our business is [now] 80- to 90-per-cent ready-made meals,” Gintowt explains. “We used to be a grocery store, but that has kind of gone by the wayside when we redirected our focus in August.” And, Sous Chef’s focus is set to narrow even further with the opening of a sister café down the street, which will take over the coffee and pastry portion of the business.
According to Technomic, Sous Chef may be ahead of the curve on this front. “We’re expecting RMS to become a business in-and-of itself,” says Chang. “We found that about 50 per cent of consumers are visiting stores strictly for RMS.” And this group is expected to grow as this segment “becomes indispensable to everyday eating habits,” she adds.
Sous Chef is also unique in that it doesn’t offer hot food, instead selling ready-to-eat cold items such as salads and sandwiches, along with a selection of ready-to-heat meals, all of which retail for $5 to $18. “We have single-portion whole meals, but we also have lots of sides that you can mix-and-match to create a platter for multiple people,” Gintowt says. “Our focus is healthy, simple, real food. We try and do super-high-quality without elaborate plating — keep it simple with the best ingredients.”
This tactic is proving effective, as Gintowt shares, the majority of the store’s customers “are repeat customers on a near-daily basis.” Plus, with a menu that changes almost weekly, customers are unlikely to get bored.
At Pusateri’s, Cammalleri and his team strive to make their stores one-stop shops. “We try to build complete solutions,” he explains. “We’re trying to make it easier for the customer to navigate through the store and help guide them through our options.” Part of that process has included offering the same product in a variety of sizes, stationing “culinary specialists” behind the counter to help customers make informed purchases and displaying complementary pre-packed items in front of the store’s hot/à la carte counters. Looking to the future of the segment, Chang says ready-to-heat options are a key area where Technomic expects to see growth. “Having that option to buy days ahead and reheat at home and have really fresh, good-quality [meals] is something that [consumers] are looking for,” she explains. It is also expected that delivery will become a more important factor within the segment.
Already, upscale-grocers such as Montreal-based Alexis Le Gourmand, have begun partnering with online-ordering and delivery services such as Foodora. When the company launched beer and wine delivery in Montreal in March, it became one of the first to offer alcohol for delivery.
Overall, Chang predicts more technology-based innovations coming down the pipeline in order to increase convenience. “[Already], 7-eleven is testing drone delivery for RMS and Walmart is testing scan-and-go, so you don’t have to wait in the checkout line,” she notes.
“[RMS] is our future and we’ve been working on this for a long time” adds Cammalleri. “We continue to expand and grow in this segment…it’s a proven part of our business and we will grow with the segment as much as we can.”