Why do shoppers choose prepared foods from their local supermarkets over restaurant and fast-food fare? If you ask the Food Marketing Institute, menu diversity has led to $15 billion in industry growth over the last eight years and cemented the perception that prepared foods are a fresher, healthier alternative to traditional dining options.
Or has it? Many prepared foods departments have recently come under fire because they cannot substantiate their nutritional claims. How can your business not only position itself as the real deal when it comes to healthier eating but enhance services, customer retention and operational costs at the same time?
1. Who’s afraid of a big, bad nutritional label?
Do your prepared foods come with a nutritional label? According to guidelines set out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), prepared foods departments are not obligated to disclose the nutritional content of the meals they sell. While some restrictions apply, the same cannot be said of meals prepared in chain restaurants or other retail foodservice establishments, according to Prepared Foods. A majority of these establishments must at least publish calorie counts for popular meals.
Supermarket managers working at businesses that do not declare nutritional information for their prepared foods ought to ask themselves a simple question: Why not? Is it because of operational costs? Or because you prefer the appearance of healthier eating rather than the reality that your food may not be as salubrious as widely believed? Starting an on-site nutritional labeling program demonstrates how your establishment goes above and beyond for its customers. And as we’ll discuss, doing so could also unearth serious waste issues plaguing profit margins.
“Portion sizes have increased by upwards of 138%.”
2. Time to put portion sizes on a diet
Food portions have grown dramatically over the last 40 years. Business Insider compiled research from several reputable medical and nutritional journals and found that since the 1970s, average portion sizes have increased by upwards of 138 percent at traditional dining establishments, as well as grocery store prepared foods departments.
If nutritional number crunching revealed high calorie or fat content in your prepared foods, perhaps the issue isn’t changing the ingredients but adjusting portion size. Not only could reducing portion sizes help your customers make smarter decisions at the dinner table, the practice could also decrease ingredient costs and increase cash flow while retaining the same customer volumes. You may even be able to justify a drop in price, further attracting customers to your counter.
Go one step further and differentiate between portion sizes for adults and children. Parents will appreciate the consideration and remember the sentiment the next time they’re looking for a cheap, healthy meal for their kids in the future. However, you may want to invest in commercial equipment capable of customizing sizes without creating an overburdened workflow.
“People consume about 50% more sodium daily than they should.”
3. Cut out overprocessed ingredients to lower salt content
By their volition or at their doctor’s behest, many Americans are trying to eat less salt. Unfortunately, the average person consumes about 50 percent more sodium daily than they really should, according to the FDA.
Providing nutritional information through labeling could help resolve the issue for the prepared foods shopper, but what about the supermarket cooking the meals? One way is to limit the amount of processed ingredients that go into prepared foods. Typically, highly processed goods contain salt as a preservative, which prepared foods professionals leverage to minimize ingredient shrinkage and operational costs. After all, using pre-made ingredients saves time for employees, thus reducing labor. However, if supermarkets could reclaim those efficiency gains elsewhere – say, by investing in automated commercial kitchen technology – prepared foods professionals can spend more time working with fresh, unprocessed ingredients that contain little to no added salt.
Don’t ask your customers to trust you about the nutritional value of your prepared foods only to let them down. Instead, prove how healthy you are. Find ways to make nutritional information more visible to shoppers and consider an investment in smarter commercial kitchen equipment to help keep efficiency high.