Foodservice and Retail Continue to Converge

Avocado bread. Robots that make and serve coffee. There is also lots of plant-based food, including several varieties of faux seafood. That’s what I saw at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago this spring. Eating my way through more than 2,000 booths serving the latest food offerings, I saw dozens of traditional grocery retailers, including many ethnic-focused stores, trying to get new ideas on how to engage their shoppers with foodservice.

I was very interested to see dozens of vendors specifically catering to retail, both those with physical or digital stores and restaurants with a portion of their locations devoted to merchandising products. A few other highlights were the DIY Guacamole Bar in the Avocados from Mexico booth and a grilled cheese sandwich with birria sauce (which is apparently a real big thing).

One of the attendees I talked with was Desiree Mimlitsch, senior brand manager of foodservice at MegaMex Foods, a joint venture between Hormel Foods and Herdez del Fuerte that was showcasing new salsas and moles. 

She said they are seeing an emerging trend of consumers bringing traditional flavors, like Birria, to the forefront while pairing unexpected flavors.

Merger with Foodservice

Returning from the show, I considered the best ways for Hispanic food retailers to meet evolving consumer demands by incorporating foodservice programs into their merchandising strategies.

To start, retailers need to conduct surveys, focus groups, and analyze purchasing data to understand their customer base’s specific preferences. They then segment customers based on factors such as age, dietary preferences, and cultural backgrounds to tailor offerings accordingly.

Retailers should focus on authentic Hispanic dishes that resonate with their communities, incorporating regional specialties that reflect the diverse culinary traditions within the Hispanic culture. This could also include collaborating with local chefs or culinary experts to ensure authenticity and quality in prepared foods.

Ideas for Innovation and Menu Development

  • Balancing traditional Hispanic dishes like tamales, pupusas, and empanadas with trendy, health-conscious options such as grain bowls and salads featuring Hispanic ingredients.
  • Consider offering a variety of portion sizes and packaging options to cater to different dining occasions, from family meals to single-serve options.
  • Seasons and Hispanic festivals, such as Día de los Muertos, Navidad, and Cinco de Mayo, are opportunities to create limited-time offerings to generate excitement and urgency among customers.

Promotion is Essential

Then comes the promotion of the foodservice items in the store (place prepared food sections in high-traffic areas) and the use of attractive, culturally themed displays and signage to draw attention.

Offer meal deals and family packs that provide convenience and value for customers looking for quick meal solutions. Hold tasting events and cooking demonstrations to engage customers and showcase the quality and flavor of your prepared foods.

Related Article: The Power of Retail Media for Hispanic Supermarkets

Provide recipe cards and cooking tips to help customers recreate their favorite dishes at home, enhancing their connection to your store. Also, consider using digital menus, loyalty apps, and social media to inform customers about new offerings and events.

Writing about events, partnering with local Hispanic farmers and suppliers to source fresh, high-quality ingredients, and highlighting these partnerships in marketing efforts.

Sponsor local events, food festivals, and cultural celebrations and collaborate with local schools, charities, and organizations to host events and workshops that promote healthy eating.

Two Final Points

Invest in training programs to ensure staff are knowledgeable about Hispanic foods’ cultural significance and preparation techniques and maintain high standards of quality and consistency in the foodservice items sold.

If there is one thing I learned from this year’s restaurant show, it’s that by integrating foodservice programs into their merchandising strategies, food retailers can not only enhance their competitive edge but also create a vibrant, culturally rich shopping experience that resonates with their shoppers.

And take my advice: Avoid the vegan charcuterie. It looks like the real thing but tastes like the bottom of an old garbage can.