Are Salad Bars Dead?February 18, 2021 - by Taylor Getler
Salad bars, hot bars, and other self-serve prepared food stations used to be a staple at many grocery stores, offering up quick dinner solutions or a convenient lunch for nearby office workers. As the shift towards online grocery ordering started to accelerate even before the pandemic, many retailers depended on these stations as a reliable way to keep shoppers coming into their physical stores.
Over the past year, these stations have basically disappeared from grocery stores as retailers and shoppers both came to recognize them as potential hotbeds for spreading germs. As retailers start to plan their long-term strategies for store layouts and product selection priorities, they may have to reimagine the role of in-store self-service stations.
“The days of the salad bar are over,” proclaims Fast Company. The publication suggests that retailers may permanently transition these areas into spaces to sell prepackaged meals and snacks. In addition to not wanting to risk COVID exposure through a self-service bar, consumers are also aiming to spend less time in stores. They want to get in and get out, without loitering and spending unnecessary time around other shoppers. Prepackaged stations that are aiming for a grab-and-go model would cut down on store congestion and save the shopper time by having their food assembled and ready.
According to Andrew Moberly, director of category solutions for the consultancy Daymon Worldwide, “in 2020 pre-packaged deli entrees and side dishes saw an 18% increase in sales, far outpacing the 1% growth the total department has seen.” For shoppers that are sick of cooking every day but are still wary of eating out, these options have provided a convenient alternative.
One of the biggest innovators in this space in recent months has been ShopRite, which launched their “Fresh to Table” concept in October. This experimental “store-within-a-store” offers produce, fresh foods, and prepared foods together in a variety of grab-and-go formats. Their “Prep & Eat” section, for example, provides a range of ready-to-cook items, while “Heat & Eat” is fully cooked and just needs to be reheated before serving. Products under the “Grab & Eat” banner, meanwhile, are ready to eat cold.
Not only does this kind of concept offer a timely and convenient replacement to the self-serve stations of the past, it also helps retailers compete with meal kit brands like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh that have gotten even more popular during the pandemic as an alternative to traditional grocers.
If this sort of model is going to be the future for retailers, then salad bars aren’t dead, exactly – they’re just evolving. While buffet-style self-service features may be gone or permanently scaled back, grocery stores have an opportunity to provide even more trendy and convenient meal solutions for shoppers that are looking for affordable and reliable options.