CHICAGO – Restaurants are the stiffest competition for prepared food departments in supermarkets, according to a new report from Datassential, a Chicago-based foodservice market research firm.

For its report, Supermarket Prepared Foods: Evolution Toward a True Foodservice Model, Datassential surveyed more than 2,000 regular supermarket shoppers and 76 operators to provide insights into how supermarkets can grow their prepared food departments.

“Prepared food departments should almost consider themselves to be separate restaurants,” said Brian Darr, managing director at Datassential. “They are really competing with Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) and fast casuals in areas like quality and value. Unlike restaurants, supermarket shoppers don’t have a menu that lets them know what’s available.”

Datassential found that:

• Supermarkets could grow their deli and bakery business by emulating restaurant marketing tactics.
• 40 percent of operators say that nearby restaurants limit the growth of their prepared foods department.
• A majority of shoppers consider supermarket prepared foods to be “excellent” or “good.”
• One-third of supermarket customers do not shop the prepared foods department.
• Even regular prepared foods shoppers say they often don’t know what’s available.
• Shoppers want high quality and a greater variety of healthy, interesting offerings.

Among operators surveyed, 86 percent said they wanted to create a more premium perception with customers, and 83 percent said they want to improve consumers' overall perception of food quality so that it's comparable with restaurants.

“We asked ourselves questions like, 'How do you motivate snack purchases?' and ‘What's the one breakfast item every supermarket should offer?’,” Darr said. "We really wanted to provide data and intelligence that operators and suppliers could immediately act on.

“With over half of their shoppers not buying prepared foods on regular basis, supermarkets have a significant, opportunity to leverage innovative in-store tactics against the fast-growing, high-margin products in the bakery or deli,” he added. “Supermarkets have some clear actions to take, some as simple as making it easier for shoppers to see what items are available or on special.”