Prior to the pandemic, grocery retail was on a seemingly unstoppable path to something like dominance — or at least a more prominent place within the overall foodservice industry.
But the damage wrought by the pandemic left almost no industry unscathed. Despite growth in grocery sales in general, retail foodservice has suffered over the past year, leaving operators looking for ways to adapt their operations to the new landscape.
Doing so successfully will likely include considerations of food quality, operational efficiency and labor costs.
Highs and lows
The 2018-2019 Foodservice Landscape published by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) predicted a 2.5% growth in retail foodservice, outstripping predictions for any other sector and significantly surpassing projections of 0.1% growth for restaurants.
The following year, the outlook continued to be rosy with projected growth in retail foodservice of 2.4%, with supermarket and grocerant foodservice specifically projected to grow by 2.8%.
Enter the pandemic.
The coronavirus and the government responses that closed or strictly limited restaurants and imposed stay-at-home restrictions on many Americans caused a boom in grocery sales as more people than ever before were regularly cooking and eating at home.
At the same time, many retailers were forced to close or scale back prepared foods departments, often shuttering self-serve stations and reducing menu offerings in other areas. Because of this shift, retail foodservice sales were down 17% from March-July 2020, according to FMI — The Food Industry Association.
But an ongoing shift may improve prospects. As the pandemic has dragged on, kitchen burn out and continued restaurant closures have led more consumers to choose retail foodservice as an accessible, ready-to-eat option.
Prepping for change
Consumers seeking the convenience of grab-and-go options “to mix up food preparation during the pandemic” will also continue to “gravitate to clean labels, quality ingredients and comfort foods,” reported Jennifer Strailey of Winsight Grocery Business.
But what form these food options take — and even how they’re served — stands to evolve. With the changing landscape, retail foodservice operators are facing an unknown future, one in which they may need to focus on streamlining operations in order to control costs while also experimenting with offerings to satisfy consumer demands.
Efficiency across the operation will be key. And one small piece of equipment may be surprisingly helpful in achieving these modern aims — the new Mixstir from AyrKing.
The Mixstir is a commercial stirrer and blender that is ideal for preparing batters, liquid seasoning mixes or any menu item that requires constant stirring.
A patent-pending wing-shaped blade design thoroughly blends dry particles with both hot and cold liquids.
The Mixstir takes up surprisingly little space but provides some big benefits:
- Labor savings. Mixing batters or other ingredients by hand, traditionally with a whisk, is a time-consuming task.
- By using the Mixstir to quickly and accurately blend ingredients, operators can rely more on “on-demand” batch sizing, making product throughout the day as needed, avoiding issues of waste or customer dissatisfaction if too much or too little is prepared in advance.
- Improved food quality. The Mixstir provides better consistency of mixed ingredients and protects against the aeration and food damage caused by traditional high-speed blenders
- Better kitchen experience. One word: silence. Unlike blenders, the Mixstir operates quietly and ensures workers and customers aren’t exposed to annoying and potentially dangerous sounds.
For example, at one QSR chain, hand-mixing the breading for a popular fried product was typically a labor-intensive process. Workers needed several minutes of stirring to mix a dry powder into water — and even then the resulting batter inevitably had clumps and inconsistencies. With the introduction of the Mixstir, the process was reduced to a matter of seconds and produced a smooth, consistent, easy-to-use batter.
Ideas to get started
Options for using the Mixstir are limited only by your culinary imagination, but here are a few starter ideas to support robust, modern retail foodservice offerings.
- Go fancy. Offer artisan-style ingredients freshly prepared in your kitchens, like seasoned oils or batters, that customers can use to jazz up their home cooking.
- Support semi-scratch cooking: “Ready-to-cook is making a big comeback during the pandemic,” said Rick Stein, VP of fresh at FMI, at the Retail Foodservice Innovation Summit. “Going into the pandemic, meal kits were dead, but what’s come out of the ashes of meal kits is meal bundles.”
- Hot and fresh. For those harried after a day of work or homeschooling and not interested in firing up their own stove, have plenty of grab-and-go comfort food options. No one has ever gone wrong taking fresh fried chicken home to the kids.
Visit the AyrKing website to learn more about the Mixstir and see the options available.