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Meal Solutions Mean More Than Just Food Service in Eyes of Consumer

WASHINGTON, DC — June 22, 2000 — Meal planning and preparation times are the primary frustrations for contemporary consumers, according to a new FMI research report, Beyond Foodservice…How Consumers View Meals. Drawing from qualitative and quantitative research, the report addresses the most fundamental requirement of a successful Meal Solutions program – understanding the consumers’ wants and needs – and it suggests that well-designed and managed Meal Solutions programs yield many opportunities for retailers.
The data presented in the report is based on four Meal Solutions concepts, each defined by the level of consumer involvement in the meal:

Ready-to-eat: Convenient meals for immediate consumption (e.g. prepared food). Ready-to-heat: Partially or fully prepared meals requiring heating for later consumption. Ready-to-prepare: Meal assembly requires minimal planning, purchase and preparation. Ready-to-create: Programs designed to build consumer cooking interest and capability.

Overall, the combined data suggests that retailers approach Meal Solutions as a category, utilizing fundamental principles associated with category management. Instead of treating it as an extension of the deli, the research indicates that retailers should develop the Meal Solutions program as a distinct business operation. Retailers should also strive to understand and market to specific consumer tastes and preferences – that is, identify the Meal Solutions concepts that appeal to various consumer groups in a particular market area – and create programs accordingly.

Qualitative Research

Focus groups conducted around the country and across all demographic strata identified six needs related to meals:

Physical: Providing nutrition to fuel and enhance daily health and performance.

Mental: A transistion between day parts, a key signpost throughout the day.

Spiritual: A time to renew one’s own spirit and familial bonds.

Cultural: An opportunity to share values, cultural beliefs and ethnic heritage.

Entertainment: A time of joy and fun. A chance to spend time with family and friends.

Reward: The opportunity to indulge one’s self or one’s family and enjoy life.

Retailers need to recognize and understand these need states as they develop their Meal Solutions programs, the report suggests. Addressing specific need states makes the particular meal program more relevant to the consumer – thereby enhancing and strengthening consumer interest and driving sales. The report also suggests that retailers use language in merchandising and advertising to address the need states. For example, Thanksgiving is an example of a cultural need state that a program can be developed around, and a program of desserts and specialty coffees might complement the reward need state, and so on.

Quantitative Research

The second portion of the report highlights responses from a nationally representative survey distributed to 2,600 households across the country. It identifies six consumer segments:

On-the-Go Jugglers: Time-stressed, busy people who rely heavily on the retailer’s Meal Solutions to satisfy their food preparation needs. Comprising 18 percent of consumers surveyed, this group would respond well to fax, phone and online ordering options, separate check-outs, dedicated parking and convenient packaging.

Healthy Family Cooks: At 13 percent of the sample, this group spends heavily for quality food. They prefer brand names and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. They would be especially attracted to foods prepared fresh daily, retailers with trained cooks/chefs, posted ingredients and nutritional information, an energetic and upscale atmosphere, and a variety of ethnic food. This group is willing to spend some time preparing a meal.

Gut Stuffing Indulgents: Representing 15 percent of the sample, this group is the best understood and served by the fast food industry. They frequently purchase take-out and delivery food, and they enjoy dining out. They spend little time preparing or planning meals, meaning they are interested in speedy service and convenient packaging that allows for quick consumption.

Meat & Potato Cooks: This group, at 18 percent of consumers surveyed, prefers traditional family meals and usually takes time to plan and prepare each meal function, which they often cook from scratch. They are most likely attracted to Ready-to-Prepare and Ready-to-Create meals, and they also will buy in quantity. Price is important. Retailers may try bundling frozen food products – entrée, vegetables and dessert, for example – at a set price in order to reach these consumers.

Strict Food Monitors: This group, representing 20 percent of the population, needs to know what is in their food. They tend to be on-the-go and a good target for Meal Solutions, but they are more interested in healthy menu choices than fast ones. Retailers reach this group by marketing healthy meals – with nutrition information easily available.

Thrifty Food Balancers: This group, 16 percent of consumers, is driven by price and value. They plan ahead for dinner, have time to cook from scratch, and normally consume three meals per day. They are also interested in serving a balanced diet. Private label brands appeal to this consumer. Retailers can effectively reach this group by promoting value and balance.


The report concludes that retailers must develop Meal Solutions programs around diverse consumer tastes, preferences, schedules, incomes and so on. Varying the types of solutions offered and the days of the week in which they are available –combined with strategic marketing and promotion – also provides a great opportunity for the program’s success.

Beyond Foodservice…How Consumers View Meals was prepared by The Partnering Group and sponsored by Hobart, Inc. To purchase the report ($35 FMI members, $70 non-FMI members), please contact FMI publication sales at 202/452-8444.

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