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Variety Is the ‘Spice’ of Foodservice

Consumers want seasonality, rotation and chef-inspired meals at retail, FMI report says.


Food retailers need to focus on variety in foodservice lineups, with a wider range of meats, seasonal offerings and rotation.

Those are among findings from The Power of Foodservice at Retail 2018, a report produced by the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute ( It is based on a survey of a national panel of 1,500 United States consumers.


“Regardless of how shoppers view their ideal deli, variety resonates with many,” the report states. It “can be addressed by seasonality, rotation, special attributes or surprise/chef-inspired meals of the day, rather than a wide assortment alone.”

Some 83% of shoppers say having a variety of different meats beyond chicken is important to them. Next in importance are seasonal items, at 74% (see chart for rankings of other key features).

The research says preferences differ based on where shoppers live. For example, urban shoppers express more interest in in-store dining features, including drink and alcohol selection and “surprise, chef-inspired meals of the day.” Rural shoppers are more interested than others in kid-friendly options.

Preferences on foodservice variety also vary by generations. Younger and older millennials express more interest in good drink and beer/wine selections compared to consumers of other ages.

In addition, older millennials are the most interested in kid-friendly options, in addition to surprise, chef-inspired meals of the day and locally-sourced/grown items. Gen X shoppers are most interested in frequent rotation of offerings.

Higher-income consumers are most vocal about the need for foodservice variety, including attributes such as seasonal items and having the deli menu for the week in advance.

Beyond variety, customization is now one of the biggest trends for both retail foodservice and restaurants, the report says.


When ordering foodservice, 54% of shoppers value being able to customize offerings, the survey finds. Those considering this most important include heavy customers of foodservice, those employing technology in dinner decisions and nutrition-focused shoppers.

The FMI report em-phasizes that retailers need to take varied foodservice strategies based on an understanding of their customer bases.

“In assortment, one size fits no one,” the report says.  “While it is important for stores to be known for certain offerings, precise assortment strategies at the store level should be customized to the consumer audience.”

David Orgel

David Orgel

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.

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