Grocery Store Food Halls Tread on Restaurant Turf to Customers’ Delight

Kroger, the United States’ leading pure-play grocer, is expanding its in-store virtual restaurants as grocery retailers expand their prepared meal options to remain competitive with shoppers who increasingly expect to get all their food needs met at once.

The Ohio-based grocer is expanding its Mix Food Hall concept, created in partnership with Kitchen United to three additional locations in the Columbus, Ohio area, bringing its total to 17 in-grocery-store virtual food halls, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce reported Monday (Oct. 31).

“We are always looking for new and unique ways to help our customers answer the ‘what’s for dinner tonight?’ question,” Melissa Stimac, vice president of merchandising at Kroger’s Columbus Division, said in a statement. “The collaboration with Kitchen United is special because customers’ restaurant-quality meal will be crafted while they’re shopping for the fresh food and pantry staples their families need.”

The news comes as consumers increasingly expect to be able to get all their food needs met at the grocery store. Research from PYMNTS’ August study “Digital Economy Payments: Consumers Buy Into Food Bargains,” which drew from a July survey of nearly 2,700 U.S. consumers, found that 37% of consumers bought prepared food on their most recent grocery trip, up 7 points from the 30% of consumers who had done so back in November 2021.

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Consequently, many grocers have been stepping up their own prepared meal offerings, looking to offer lower-effort alternatives in addition to raw ingredients for home cooking. For instance, multinational grocery giant Ahold Delhaize — the parent company of a range of popular brands including Albert Heijn, Giant and Stop & Shop — has been noting the shift to prepared meals at a number of its chains. Maine-based subsidiary Hannaford, for one, has been promoting its “assortment of affordable ready meals.”

Plus, the multinational grocery giant’s Northeastern U.S. eCommerce brand FreshDirect has also noticed the shift back to its prepared meal offerings. In an interview with PYMNTS,  Scott Crawford, chief merchandising officer at FreshDirect, noted that this could be attributed to the return to pre-pandemic trends, given that sales in this category took a downturn as consumers returned to dining out.

In another move to capture this demand for prepared food at the supermarket, Michigan-based grocery retailer Meijer, which operates 262 stores across six states, announced in August the launch of a new line of ready-made meals, with 12 “restaurant-style” heat-and-eat Crafted Market brand single-serve heat-and-eat options.

Meanwhlie, Walmart, the world’s largest grocery retailer, has been providing restaurant meals in stores via its partnership with Ghost Kitchen Brands, in a move similar to Kroger’s, as well as offering meal kit options via its digital marketplace in partnership with Blue Apron.

“The Walmart customer is obviously looking for online shopping as a way for convenience,” Dani Simpson, chief marketing officer at Blue Apron, told PYMNTS in a June interview. “I really feel like we’re just one part of the consumer’s week, and we can be an add to their shopping cart.”


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