The question for supermarkets is no longer about whether they should offer ready-made meals, but rather which ones should be on offer, say experts at Rational.
Even without the pandemic, the out-of-home business had grown rapidly in the last few years, with a corresponding increase in turnover. Experts assume that ready-to-eat meals will make up a considerable part of turnover, even in post-Covid times, with the right concept, freshness and food quality.
“Those who create customer experiences, for example with freshness and quality or an appealing ambience, score points with their customers,” says Maxim Kuzmin, Key Account Manager Middle East at Rational. Since supermarkets have been drawing attention to themselves with islands of enjoyment and on-site preparation, they are increasingly gaining favour with customers.
True to the motto ‘you can’t cook for yourself every day’, more and more indviduals are reaching for the tried-and-tested at the hot counter, such as chicken in any form, but also vegetarian alternatives like plant-based burgers.
In addition, curries, soups – and in supermarkets that dare to be bold, bowls – are also winning the daily race. Wherever possible, food is consumed on the spot, taken hot to the office or home office, or put in the shopping bag to take home.
Different dishes, same quality; the question arises: how do they do that, although it usually requires numerous cooking devices and there are rarely trained cooks on board? Kuzmin says: “The key to success is an appealing food concept which takes into account limited space and houses appropriate equipment.”
For the Rational expert, many factors play an important role for a successful food concept. For example, the location of the supermarket. In an urban environment, the offer of ready-prepared meals is more likely to be accepted than in sparsely populated areas.
However, in times of home offices and closed restaurants, customers are rediscovering their corner supermarket, which is frequented more often than before. A food concept must be flexible: when it comes to equipping several shops, it must be adaptable to any shop size and layout.
At the same time, however, customers want the same quality at every location: standardised food production must therefore be guaranteed. And not to forget staff, unskilled or inexperienced staff are the pillars of the out-of-home business and must be able to implement the concept.
All these points together constitute an enormous challenge for kitchen equipment. “In the vast majority of cases, intelligent cooking systems are the solution, where no one has to stand next to them and everything still turns out ok. For example, the iCombi Pro combi steamer or the iVario Pro, which can be used to cook, fry and deep-fry,” Kuzmin adds.
Since both cooking systems cover about 90% of all common cooking applications, they are flexible in terms usage. This begins, for example, with the iCombi in the morning, when different types of bread rolls are baked; at lunchtime, it simultaneously produces lasagne, potato gratin and vegetable casserole, followed by various sweet baked goods, and then the hot counter is filled with products to take away.
The iVario is responsible for soups, pasta and ragouts in parallel.
Kuzmin sees another advantage in the easy operation of both cooking systems: “Intelligent programmes ensure that only a tap of the finger is needed for preparation. You can set up MyDisplay on the iCombi and the iVarion, for example. The food appears as a picture on the appliance display. Since the same cooking process is always called up, it’s ensured that the same result is always achieved.”
He recommends using the function for dishes that are prepared frequently. For example, cooking pasta or vegetables or baking croissants. This works even if the same dishes are to be produced in different appliances. With the help of ConnectedCooking, the digital kitchen management system from Rational, cooking programmes are transferred to the cooking systems with just one click and in a few seconds. The person in charge doesn’t even have to be in the supermarket to do this, it can all be done from the comfort of their desk using a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Since even discounters are enhancing customer experience, supermarkets have to come up with something. The magic word is ‘gastrovenience’: fresh food, prepared in front of the customers, which makes their mouths water, even in the display or after a long journey home, is success.