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Good News for Grocers is Bad News for Restaurateurs

By Lorrie Baumann

There’s no sign that Americans are going to drop the habits they learned during the Recession and start eating more of their meals in restaurants, a panel of industry experts told an audience at the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show yesterday.

Americans today are busier and more time-stressed than ever, and they’re saving time as well as money by stopping in and picking up grab-and-go offerings at grocery and convenience stores. Those stores have responded by improving the quality and variety of their in-store offerings, and Americans aren’t likely to be willing to give up the convenience and cost savings that grocers have taught them to appreciate, the panelists said.

“Convenience stores have changed. Grocery stores understand that they can take market share away from you,” said  They’re not just rotisserie chickens anymore – they’re grab and go,” said Bill Cross, Vice President for Restaurant Brand Licensing at Broad Street Licensing Group. He pointed out that 80 percent of the time, Americans don’t know at 4 p.m. what they’re going to have for dinner. Their answer to that question is that they’re going to stop off at a grocery or convenience store on their way home from work and pick up something from the freezer case or fresh food departments and take it home to eat. Grocers have stepped up by providing more and better offerings for them to do that. He didn’t mention that the current trend among grocers is to build smaller stores, that will be even more convenient for customers to dash in and out of when they’re making that stop, but he did point out to the restaurateurs in his audience that there’s no sign that the outlook for their businesses is going to get any better. Americans are busier than ever; grocers have found ways to help them out with that problem, and restaurateurs are no longer competing just with each other — they’re now competing with everybody in the food business, the panelists said.