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Grocery Pundit Announces Top Trends for 2017

More digital connections and a speedier checkout process rank among the top trends for grocery shopping in 2017, says John Karolefski, veteran supermarket analyst and writer at GroceryStories.com. Karolefski also predicts a more diverse produce department, increased availability of meal kits, and better access to product information.

“The top trends for 2017 will result in improved loyalty to stores and more informed shoppers,” says Karolefski. “Expect a more enjoyable shopping experience.”

Karolefski’s top trends for 2017 are:

More Digital Engagement: Millennials are starting families and becoming major buyers of groceries. To maintain the loyalty of these shoppers, supermarket chains will ramp up their digital tactics. For example, grocers will outfit their stores with beacons, which are sensors embedded throughout a store’s shelves, signs and product displays. Beacons interact with smartphones using low-energy Bluetooth signals to provide coupons and other discounts. More grocers will promote their own mobile apps for shoppers to get discounts and specials. Meanwhile, online grocery ordering and delivery will grow as shoppers opt for this convenience.

More Ways to Check Out: Shoppers want to pay for their groceries and leave the store as quickly as possible. Amazon’s current test of a No-Checkout store in Seattle, relying on a special mobile app for checking in and out of a store, will increase interest in speedy checkout. Retailers like Sam’s Club and Kroger are testing new checkout options such as using a smartphone or a special handheld scanner that enable shoppers to scan and bag products while they shop. Other grocers will follow their lead.

More Diverse Produce Departments: Shoppers will find more organic fruits and vegetables, as well as local produce. Meanwhile, the growing number of Hispanic-American shoppers will prompt grocers to stock such products as tomatillos and jicama. These trends will result in more diverse produce departments in 2017.

More Meal Kits: Grocery shoppers will be able to choose from a variety of “meal kits” that burst onto the scene with such startups as Plated, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Giant Eagle began selling its own meal kits this year, and more grocers will do the same in 2017. Meanwhile, manufacturers such as ConAgra and Campbell Soup have launched their own meal kits, and other food makers will follow.

More Access to Product Information: Nearly 30,000 grocery products will bear a new SmartLabel on packages by the end of 2017 to give consumers easy access to detailed information about what they are buying. Shoppers will be able to scan this sophisticated bar code in the store or do an online search to reach a landing page for information on ingredients and other attributes of a wide range of consumer packaged goods.

Michele Buck Appointed President and CEO of The Hershey Company

The Hershey Company’s board of directors has appointed Michele Buck, currently the company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, as Hershey’s next President and Chief Executive Officer effective March 1, 2017. She will succeed John P. Bilbrey, who previously announced his intention to retire from the company. Bilbrey will continue as Non-Executive Chairman of Hershey’s Board of Directors following his retirement as President and CEO.

“Michele is a proven leader who, during 11 years at Hershey and more than 25 years as an executive in the consumer packaged goods industry, has a demonstrated track record of building brands consumers love while bringing out the best in employees amid a rapidly changing business environment,” said Bilbrey. “She has consistently displayed a keen sense for how to grow our iconic brands. The unanimous vote by the board is a testament to the confidence we have in Michele as the next leader of this great company,” he said.

“As the board contemplated the right strategic leader for the next great chapter in Hershey’s history, it quickly became apparent that Michele offered the right mix of outstanding vision and proven execution to continue taking our company forward,” said Pamela Arway, Chair of the Governance Committee of Hershey’s Board of Directors and chair of the board’s special committee overseeing the CEO succession process.

Since joining the company in 2005, Buck has spearheaded the development and execution of many successful growth initiatives and strategic shifts at the company, most notably Hershey’s substantial growth in its core confection portfolio as it moved from a supply- to demand-driven business model. She was the architect of the company’s strategy to expand into broader snacking categories and oversaw the acquisitions of KRAVE and barkThins brands. She is a proven people leader and a champion of the Hershey culture through her ability to inspire, develop and connect with employees and customers.

“Hershey is an incredibly special company with a rich 120-year history of bringing goodness to the world,” Buck said. “I am honored to be chosen as the next leader of this innovative and pioneering business. The opportunity ahead for Hershey is tremendous, and to take advantage of it will require a clear focus on meeting the evolving needs of consumers while moving quickly to stay ahead of the trends shaping our business,” she said.

“I look forward to working closely with our board and the entire Hershey team to further our vision for 2017 and beyond,” continued Buck. “I also would like to thank JP for his leadership, mentorship and friendship over the last several years. It is an honor to be succeeding him as CEO and I look forward to his continued guidance as chairman of our board.”

Zingerman’s Creamery Cheese Now Available on East Coast  

Zingerman’s Creamery has entered into a new partnership with World’s Best Cheeses. The specialty food distributor directly delivers some of the best cheeses, crackers, oils, chocolates and meats from around the world to gourmet retail markets, and now those offerings include Zingerman’s small-batch artisan cheeses made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This will be the first time the Creamery has had major distribution on the East Coast.

“We’re honored to be represented on the East Coast by World’s Best Cheeses,” says Zingerman’s co-Founder Ari Weinzweig. “Their distribution network will allow us to get our cheeses to specialty shops, restaurants, caterers and cafes without having to have them incur shipping costs from the Midwest.”

Since 2001, Zingerman’s Creamery has specialized in soft-ripened cheeses, employing a combination of Old World techniques and creative innovation to draw out full, complex flavor. The cow and goat milk used is sourced from a select group of small, regional farmers to secure the highest quality product. The collaboration with World’s Best Cheeses, a leader in the specialty food industry that has been family owned and operated for over 30 years and currently has offices in New York, Massachusetts, and California, is a natural and welcomed fit for both companies.

“We have always admired and respected Zingerman’s business and philosophy, and these delicious cheeses have been on our radar for some time,” says Stephen Gellert, ACS-CCP, Vice President of Business Development for World’s Best Cheeses. “We are very excited to finally be working together!”

World’s Best Cheeses is currently distributing Zingerman’s Creamery Detroit Street Brick, Chestnut Little Napoleon, Manchester, Liptauer, and Aged Chelsea. Full descriptions of each cheese can be found in the Cheese section at www.zingermanscreamery.com.

Prairie Farms Dairy and Swiss Valley Farms Announce Merger Agreement

Prairie Farms Dairy and Swiss Valley Farms have entered into a merger agreement. Both companies are farmer-owned dairy cooperatives and recognized leaders within the dairy industry. The combined entity will bring together two well-known brands and will expand sales opportunities for both cooperatives.

Under the terms of the agreement, Prairie Farms will merge the assets of Swiss Valley Farms into Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc. Assets include five manufacturing plants that produce cheese and whey powder located in: Luana, Iowa; Shullsburg and Mindoro in Wisconsin; Rochester and Faribault in Minnesota. Swiss Valley Farms CEO Chris Hoeger will continue to oversee the operation of the plants. The combined company will operate under the name Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc. The terms of the merger agreement must be approved by cooperative members from both companies.

“The merger with Swiss Valley was driven by our commitment to build value for our cooperative members and is consistent with our growth strategy. Swiss Valley’s contributions will allow us to diversify our product portfolio and expand into new markets,” said Ed Mullins, Executive Vice President and CEO of Prairie Farms.

Chris Hoeger, Swiss Valley’s CEO, stated, “We are very excited to be joining forces with Prairie Farms. This merger offers numerous benefits for our cooperative members and is an ideal opportunity to bring together two industry leaders. We will leverage the strengths of both companies to offer a broader range of products and to enhance and expand relationships with customers.”

As Prairie Farms and Swiss Valley collaborate on pre-merger integration activities, their employees and customers can expect a business-as-usual environment. If approved, the deal is expected to close mid-2017.

Davidson’s Organics Refreshes the Cup that Cheers

By Lorrie Baumann

Davidson’s Organics celebrates its 40th anniversary with rebranded packaging, a new line of tea jellies and a new line of specialty tea chocolates.

“Consumers today live very busy lifestyles. They’re looking for simplicity, value and health benefits – all in a simple format,” said Kunall Patel, Davidson’s Organics Owner and Director. “Our new package design meets all those needs while providing a very visual, trendy and high-profile look.”

While Davidson’s Organics has been in business since 1976, Patel and his family bought the brand in 2007 after the company, which had been growing organic teas in India since the 1920s, decided to vertically integrate by acquiring a business active in the North American market. Today, the same farmer cooperative of third-generation tea growers grows the tea leaves in India, and Davidson’s Organics imports them to its plant in Sparks, Nevada, where the teas are blended, manufactured, packaged and shipped to retailers.

“We’re the only tea company today that’s 100 percent vertically integrated from farm to cup,” Patel said. “This is different from the majority of other operations who outsource sourcing, blending, manufacturing and distribution. We do everything under one roof.”

dsc_3219The company currently offers about 300 flavors of USDA-certified organic and kosher-certified tea – the largest product range of organic teas on the market. They include 11 distinct product categories: black, green and white teas; dessert teas that mimic the flavor profiles of classic desserts without the calories; honey teas that contain real organic honey inside the teabag that dissolves out into the cup as it’s infused; tulsi “holy basil” teas; rooibos-based red teas; holiday teas inspired by the season but available year-round; decaffeinated teas, chai; and traditional favorites – the Darjeeling, Ceylon and Irish Breakfast teas. They’re available in tea bags, as loose leaf tea and as brew bags designed for iced tea.

“The brand’s new packaging is designed to stand out on the shelf and portray the products’ clean-label health benefits, company story, key certifications and simple ingredients that are easily and quickly assimilated to influence buying decisions,” Patel said. “The consumer has very little time to analyze a product,” he said. “To engender loyalty you need something more than just price.”

davidsons-earl-grey-jellyThe celebration continues with a new line of tea jellies, the first of their kind on the market. The tea jellies are made by infusing real tea leaves, grown by the farmer cooperative of third-generation tea farmers in the Darjeeling region of India who grow the company’s other tea products. Pectin and cane sugar are then added to make the jelly. The jellies come in four flavors that reflect the four best-selling Davidson’s Organics teas: Earl Grey, White Pomegranate, Classic Chai and Coconut Vanilla.
“The jellies reflect the true flavors of the tea blend,” Patel said. “There are a lot of jellies out there. There’s no other real tea jelly that’s made out of infused organic tea.”

The Earl Grey Tea Jelly pairs very well with meat or cheeses, according to Patel. “It’s a wonderful addition to any backyard barbecue or dinner,” he said. “It makes a perfect combination of salty and sweet at the same time.” Consumers would use the Chai Tea Jelly as they might use a pumpkin butter in a holiday feast – as a complement to bread or cheeses. White Pomegranate Tea Jelly is a tart and fruity spread that pairs well in spring-time treats, and the Coconut Vanilla Tea Jelly is perfect as an addition to scones or croissants.

Following along with the thought that tea need not be just for drinking, Davidson’s Organics is also introducing a new line of specialty tea chocolates made with certified organic dark cacao chocolate sprinkled with loose leaf tea, molded into bars, and then sprinkled with more tea. The chocolate comes from a cooperative of 400 third-generation cacao farmers from the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador.

“It’s a perfect marriage and celebration of three generations of organic agriculture,” Patel said. He noted that although there are cultural differences between the two groups of farmers – the tea growers in India and the cacao growers in Ecuador —the partnership has benefited from a shared respect for each other’s agricultural tradition.

The 70g bars are 65 percent dark chocolate in three flavors: Earl Grey Lavender, Classic Chai and Coconut Vanilla. They retail for about $6.99.

Meal Delivery Service Caters to the Health-Conscious But Busy

By Lorrie Baumann

Terra’s Kitchen is one of those meal kit delivery services that have been springing up all over the country, and while it’s only just over a year old, it’s taking off nationally by offering convenience, freshness and flexibility to busy individuals with a wide range of dietary requirements and concerns about the environmental sustainability of their choices. “We know that there are many different ways to eat in a healthy manner,” said Michael McDevitt, the company’s CEO. “We’re meeting the needs of many different types of consumers.”

McDevitt started the business just 19 months ago. “I got the news that I was becoming a father, and I wanted to do everything I could do to reinvent the childhood I had growing around the table, which seemed to have fallen off,” he said. “People are just so busy today.”

“We exist to connect family and friends back around the dinner table. That’s why we are here,” he continued.

The company has four pillars to its brand: health, talk, balance and convenience. Recipes for the meals are developed as a cooperation between the company’s Creative Culinary Director, Libbie Summers, and its Director of Nutrition, Dr. Lisa Davis, PhD, PA-C, CNS, to ensure that they’re both tasty and nutritious, and variety is a key, with more than 40 seasonal offerings on the company’s website at any given time. Customers can filter the menu offerings according to several dietary regimes so that the choices they’re offered meet their own needs, whether that’s Paleo, vegetarian, gluten-free or just generally nutrition-conscious. Most of the meal choices are priced between $10 and $15 per serving.

Ingredients for the meals are prechopped and packaged for shipment in a reusable vessel that the consumer unpacks at home and then puts back outside for pickup the next day by the same service that delivered it. The vessel is delivered back to Terra’s Kitchen, where it’s sanitized and reused. There’s no outer box or gel packs to make the kind of excessive packaging waste that many critics of meal delivery services have pointed out as a conflict with environmental sustainability. Individual ingredient items, organic or non-GMO when possible, are packaged in recyclable plastic containers – 4-inch by 4-inch plastic boxes of the kind that consumers are used to seeing as packaging for deli salads in their supermarkets. Consumers may recycle the plastic containers either by returning them to the vessel to be delivered back to Terra’s Kitchen or putting them into their own municipal collection, or they often find other ways to use the containers, McDevitt said. The minimal packaging drops the amount of packaging waste for a Terra’s Kitchen delivery to about 8 ounces per week, or about 25 pounds per year, which compares to about 450 pounds a year for some of the company’s competitors.

Along with every meal, as part of the company’s brand pillars, the customer gets a table talk topic that’s designed to spark conversation. Topics range from light-hearted philosophical questions to nutrition information about the actual meal the consumer is eating. “We do what we can to spark conversations around the table,” McDevitt said. “We have a lot of fun helping table talk.”

The company’s focus on balance and convenience means that every meal offered can be prepared in less than 30 minutes. McDevitt says this reflects that the company is conscious of the time and effort needed to prepare a healthy meal and aware that its customers are looking for help managing both their time and their nutrition. “Everybody knows how they should be eating, but it’s very difficult to take those steps,” McDevitt said. “We take the majority of the prep work out of the meal by sending everybody pre-cut ingredients.”

Terra’s Kitchen ships from both the East and West Coasts to cover the entire nation. Subscribers order weekly meal deliveries for up to four or five weeks. They can to go back and alter their choices ahead of each shipping date, and they can choose the days of the week on which they’d like their shipments to arrive. “The benefit is that you can do all of your meal planning for a month in a 10-minute sitting,” McDevitt said.

The average customer is likely to order two or three dinners and two or three grab-and-go items to pack for office lunches. Terra’s Kitchen does not yet offer traditional breakfast items. The company requires a minimum $65 order for each shipment. “You’re signing up for meals to come in the container, which comes in a weekly basis, but you can skip weeks and only have it come on the weeks that you want it,” McDevitt said. “We are very much aware of our clientele. The most typical consumer is a busy, two-income family with young children, both working, both very busy. We’re also having tremendous success in the empty nester market as well, those people who have time on their hands and are just looking for a more convenient way to gather around the table together for dinner – other than going out to dinner.”

He added that, “It started for the purpose of helping families getting together around the table, and we’re having tremendous success with that.”

Wandering the Human Zoo with a Market Researcher Guide

By Lorrie Baumann

Around 52 million American consumers are people that market researcher Maryellen Molyneaux says are among those motivated by health and sustainability. This population, which she calls LOHAS consumers, is particularly important to retailers because they’re well-educated, they’re well-off, and they tend to put their money where their values are.

To understand this better, let’s think first about what market researchers actually do for us. If you picture your municipal zoo, but then imagine that the various enclosures are populated with human consumers rather than other kinds of exotic animals, the market researchers are like tour guides. When you come into the zoo as an interested but casual observer, these tour guides meet you at the gate and explore the zoo with you. Many of today’s market researchers would draw your attention to enclosures with signs that label them as creatures like “Baby Boomers” or “Millennials.” They’ll say things that sound like this: “Notice that the Millennials are young adults. You’ll see that some of them are carrying their young but others haven’t yet begun to reproduce. Don’t they all look happy accessing the internet with their smart phones! Now over here in the next enclosure, you’ll see the GenXers, and you’ll notice that they’re about to enter what we think of as middle age, which means that they’re thinking more about their health. Look at them wandering around the health and beauty aisle that we’ve set up inside their enclosure to help them feel that they’re in familiar surroundings.”

If you should happen to draw Molyneaux as your tour guide, though, she’ll draw your attention to subgroups of creatures that she sees within each of these generational enclosures, and what she’ll point out is that in each of the various enclosures, there’s a group of people who just seem a little cooler than the rest. It’s that coolness that draws her interest, and she can see it being acted out when they spend their money.

She’s especially interested in watching these particular creatures make their purchasing decisions because, when the other creatures in their enclosure see what these cool creatures are buying, they start wanting to buy those things too. This means that what these cool creatures are buying is about to become a trend.

Molyneaux calls these cool creatures LOHAS. They’re the market segment that, irrespective of the generation in which they’re found, are greatly motivated by their concerns for health and environmental sustainability. “When you think about conscious consumption, LOHAS consumers lead the pack and will continue to do so. They’re the ones who buy with their values,” Molyneaux said. “Not only do they buy with their values, but they become brand champions.”

When she’s not acting as our tour guide in our imaginary zoo, Molyneaux is the President and Managing Partner of the Natural Marketing Institute. Her market consulting company has been advising businesses about how to leverage information about consumers interested in health, wellness and sustainability since 1990, and she’s been collecting proprietary trend data since 1999.

LOHAS consumers now comprise 22 percent of all American consumers, and where they lead, others tend to follow. “Adoptions of attitudes and behaviors come first to LOHAS, but then their attitudes are flowing into the mainstream groups,” Molyneaux said. “To be able to understand these consumers is important…. These are the consumers that set the bar.”

LOHAS consumers have education and more money than other market segments, and in general, they favor the organic label. While more than 60 percent of American consumers have used an organic product in the last year, LOHAS consumers use more organic than anyone else. Two thirds of them believe that organic foods are safer to eat, and 71 percent of them believe they’re safer for the environment. That compares to 63 percent of all organic users who believe that organic foods are safer to eat and 64 percent of all organic users who believe that organic foods are safer for the environment. Three-fourths (76 percent) of LOHAS consumers believe that it’s important that their store carry food grown on farms that practice sustainable agriculture, compared to half of the general population who share that belief.

LOHAS consumers are growing in their perceptions that organic foods and beverages are safer to eat, more nutritious, fresher and better-tasting than conventional foods and beverages. In the decade between 2006 and 2015, the number of general population consumers who believed that organic food is safer to eat grew from 41 percent to 50 percent, and the number who said that organic food is more nutritious grew from 35 percent to 45 percent. Similar gains were observed on the questions of freshness and taste.

LOHAS consumers are more likely than the general population to prefer vegetarian meals. While 30 percent of the general population is trying to cut down on meat consumption, 40 percent of LOHAS consumers are doing that. “They’re very into protein sources and the effect of protein sources on sustainability, including the sustainability of agriculture,” Molyneaux said. We see the general population beginning to follow that trend: 41 percent of general population consumers now say they want more plant-based protein in their diets, and one out of five general population consumers say they’re consuming more plant-based protein than they did a year ago.

The LOHAS consumers are also thinking about how their preferences for products made without toxins or artificial ingredients can apply to more than just food, and they’re driving demand for personal care products and cleaning products. They’re already requiring that manufacturers meet their demands for transparency around the issues of health and sustainability. “They don’t expect perfection. They expect progress. You can be transparent about the progress you’re making, what you’re trying to accomplish, what the next thing is,” Molyneaux said. “That goes from operating your store in a more sustainable manner to conserving waste to serving social needs. There are so many platforms that can be address and that should be addressed, using these consumers as your springboard.”

BJ’s Wholesale Club Announces $10,000 Donation and Partnership with Lowcountry Food Bank

BJ’s Wholesale Club has made a $10,000 donation and joined a partnership with the Lowcountry Food Bank, a Feeding America Member food bank. The donation from the BJ’s Charitable Foundation will help alleviate hunger in the community by supporting the food bank’s acquisition of fresh, nutritious food during the holiday season.

“BJ’s is committed to making a positive difference in the communities we serve, and we’re proud to support the Lowcountry Food Bank,” said Kirk Saville, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at BJ’s Wholesale Club. “This partnership marks the beginning of BJ’s presence in South Carolina, and we’re happy to help the Lowcountry Food Bank source fresh, nutritious food during the holiday season.”

The BJ’s Wholesale Club is slated for opening in Charleston, South Carolina, in spring 2017 and will provide affordable fresh food options to the community that beat grocery store prices every day. Additionally, through its Feeding Communities Program, the Club will donate unsold produce, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and bakery products on a daily basis to reduce food waste and provide wholesome, fresh food to neighbors in need.

“We are excited about our new partnership with BJ’s Wholesale Club,” said Pat Walker, President and CEO of the Lowcountry Food Bank. “Their generous donation will help provide thousands of families impacted by food insecurity with nutritious food. With a partner like BJ’s Wholesale Club, together we will be able to make a significant impact in the fight against hunger in our community.”

 

Murray’s Cheese Debuts Annelies

By Lorrie Baumann

annelies-for-webMurray’s Cheese has introduced a brand new cheese into the American market. Annelies starts with an Appenzeller-type cheese made in Switzerland by Walter Räss of Kaserie Tufertschwil. Räss makes the cheese, ages it in Switzerland for a couple of months and then ships the wheels to Murray’s Cheese in New York, where it’s aged on wood, its rind washed weekly with purified water, for a minimum of nine more months. “The cheese is very pliable early, without a whole lot of depth of flavor. As it ages, around the 13-month mark, we’re getting a lot of the tropical fruit [flavor notes], the salt is more concentrated, and you get more depth from the savory flavors,” said Steve Millard, Murray’s Cheese Vice President of Merchandising and Foodservice.

Murray’s will be the only shop selling the cheese outside the Räss’ village of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The Annelies name comes from Räss’ wife, who shares the name. It’ll be available at Murray’s New York stores and online throughout the year, as supplies allow. “It’s a good amount of cheese, but I fully anticipate us selling through it pretty quickly,” Millard said.

The collaboration responsible for the cheese started with a visit. “The cheesemaker came and visited the [Murray’s] caves a couple of years ago and had a conversation with our cave master,” Millard said. “The two of them really hit it off and got into a discussion about taking some of Walter’s cheeses at a young stage. He went back to Switzerland, and two months later, we got a couple of wheels of cheese wrapped in paper.”

“We had room in our cave, and we knew from aging Tarentaise that we get from Springbrook that our Alpine cave was developing some really good flavors,” he added. “We wanted to do it, in general, because we didn’t really have any Alpine cheeses that we were aging from a green stage…. We’ve always operated an Alpine cave, but we had previously been taking existing cheeses and aging them further.”

Murray’s cave master set the two wheels from Räss on a wood shelf and wash the rind every week for a year. “Walter came back in July, 2015 and tasted the cheese that had been in the cave for a year. He was totally blown away,” Millard said. “He instantly agreed to send us 30 wheels a month.”

The cheese is now part of Murray’s Cheese’s exclusive Cave Master line, which also includes Greensward. Greensward, a collaboration between Murray’s Cheese and Jasper Hill, shared third place honors with Jeffs’ Select Gouda in the best of show category at this year’s American Cheese Society Annual Judging & Competition. Greensward starts with Jasper Hill’s Harbison and is then washed with cider as it ages in Murray’s Affinage Caves.

Rastelli Foods Group Caters to Both Consumers and Other Retailers

By Lorrie Baumann

As both a retailer and a wholesale meat processor, Rastelli Foods Group is in prime position to observe how the American grocery landscape is evolving. Rastelli Foods Group supplies meat in the wholesale market to grocers and meal kit delivery services up and down the East Coast of the U.S., provides meat for U.S. military installations overseas, ships directly to consumers across the U.S. and operates two New Jersey specialty grocery stores, a 6,000-square foot store originally opened in Deptford as Rastelli’s Meat Stop and then remodeled and reopened five years ago as Rastelli Market Fresh and a new 40,000 square-foot specialty grocer in Marlton.

Ray Rastelli, III is the company’s Vice President and son of the Founder who started Rastelli Meat Stop about 40 years ago and grew it into one of the premier meat suppliers on the East Coast. His father, also Ray Rastelli, is still very active in the business and likely to be recognized by the QVC shoppers who see him pitching fresh and frozen meats four to six times a week on their televisions. The QVC sales are part of a direct-to-consumer mail-order operation that delivers 50,000 to 60,000 packages, mainly fresh and frozen meat and seafood products, both to those QVC shoppers and to customers who come directly to the company’s website. “We started our e-commerce platform in 2009,” Rastelli says. “For the first few years, we sold a few thousand packages a month. Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a significant, significant increase.”

From this vantage point, Ray Rastelli, 33, is seeing a trend that’s corroborated by marketing researchers. U.S. government figures document that about half of Americans’ food dollars are now spend on food prepared in restaurants, and even when Americans eat at home, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing the same kind of cooking that their grandmothers did. “The biggest thing I see that’s really changing in the past two years is the evolution of the at-home delivery companies,” Rastelli said.

“Some of the retailers we work with are trying to come out with their own version of that – meal kits right at the front of the store. Those companies are definitely taking market share.” According to market research firm Packaged Facts, there are now more than 150 meal delivery kit services operating in the U.S. and over the past few years, these businesses have raised more than $650 million in venture capital. Most of these meal kit delivery services are targeting young professionals and families with children who live in urban areas.

Americans between the ages of 25 and 55 are increasingly comfortable ordering their food online, and and cooking it at home, often in the form of meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Women now spend less than an hour a day on food preparation and cleanup, while men still spend an average of less than half an hour a day working in the kitchen, according to 2015 statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rastelli says his company’s online customers tend to be foodies who care about the quality of the food they’re getting. “They’re definitely people who are really engaged in food, not people who are just looking to put something on the plate,” he said.

He says they’re increasingly likely to see organic and all-natural foods as healthier options. “Five years ago, organic and all-natural would be one one hundredth of the business,” he said. “These days, it’s between 30 to 45 percent of the product we manufacture.”

Rastelli, who started work sweeping floors in his father’s business when he was 10 years old, then became a regular employee on the night shift while he was a sophomore in high school, now sees these trends playing out in the company’s two retail stores. The original Rastelli Market Fresh was converted from a 6,000-foot Rastelli’s Meat Stop store five years ago. Designed as a kind of hybrid between Whole Foods and the previous store, but with a lot of prepared options, the business at the new store inspired the company to expand with a second, bigger location in Marlton, New Jersey, about a half-hour drive from Philadelphia.

The new Rastelli Market Fresh is more of a prepared food store with a pantry of specialty items than a full-service grocer, with almost half of its business professional customers stopping in to eat in the store rather than purchase a basket of food to take home and cook. The store includes several made-to-order restaurant-type concepts – there’s no hot-line buffet – including a pizza stand, sushi restaurant, a taqueria and a Craftwich sandwich shop. Customers order from any of the concepts and the store’s deli counter from a self-service kiosk that prints out a ticket for the customer, who waits only about 2-1/2 to 3 minutes for a meal that’s made from scratch. “It’s set the world on fire in that area,” Rastelli said. “It’s been beyond our expectations.”

Of the 20,000 customers a week who come through the store and check out with an average $38 purchase, fully 9,000 to 10,000 of them came to eat at the 150-seat cafe/lounge or to pick up a single meal to take home with them. According to research reported by the Washington Post in 2015, less than 60 percent of suppers served at home in 2014 were actually cooked at home, and although that trend stalled a bit during the recession, Americans began picking up takeout again as the economy improved.

The single most popular concept in the Marlton Rastelli Market Fresh store is a create-a-plate offering in which customers select a protein from several choices that might include a chicken breast, a filet mignon, a grilled salmon portion and a lamb chop and then add two sides from a menu of 10 selections to put together a total customized meal priced at $8.99. The concept has lines of customers waiting every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Rastelli said. “We package it up for them and off they go.”
The retail stores also act as a product development lab for products offered by the company’s online and wholesale operations.

For instance, recipes for pre-marinated steaks and chicken breasts, which are extremely popular items, are pilot-tested in the retail stores, where Rastelli and other family members will spend time on the weekends talking to customers about whether they like what they’re eating. If not, the recipe goes back for more work until there’s general agreement that the company has a really good product before it’s mass-marketed to Rastelli’s online customers and to other grocery retailers. “We’re finding that grocery stores are just shifting to what people are looking for. “People still have to eat,” Rastelli said. “We try to cater to business professionals who are in a jam and trying to get dinner for their families because they worked late.”

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