You’ve been conditioned to believe that restaurants cost too much so good consumers do the bulk of their food shopping at grocery stores. On the other hand, according to industry data, people buy more food at restaurants than at grocery stores. It’s a rivalry on par with Apple vs. PC, iPhone vs. Android, and the Mets vs. the Yankees – but a new breed of store brings the two sides together in one place.
Yes, you read it right. That ugly-looking word is the hybrid of grocery store and restaurant. You probably have one in your community. Steven Johnson, also known as the Grocerant Guru, says this: "Grocerant means any retail food item that is ready-2-eat or ready to heat. Traditionally these items can be found in grocery stores in the deli/lifestyle section, C-stores [convenience stores] in the prepared food area and prepackaged, ready-to-eat items, and in restaurants under the to-go, takeout or take away or delivery section of the menu or on the website."
Head to most large grocery stores and you’ll see rotisserie chicken, meatloaf, steak fries, and mac and cheese all sitting under heat lamps ready for you to pick up, take home, and serve as if you slaved away in the kitchen all day. Or, in some stores, you can sit down and dine as if you’re at your favorite fast casual chain.
The grocerant craze is far from a cult following. In the past eight years, sales of prepared foods from grocery stores have risen 30%; in 2015, it reached $10 billion of consumer spending.
And don’t think of the food as a subpar substitute for “real” restaurant food. In areas of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, or other states where you find one of the more than 1,100 Publix supermarkets, the “Pub Sub” might be more sought-after than a Subway sub. Winn-Dixie has "chef-driven prepared foods" that include fresh sushi, all the fresh salads you could ever want, and even – yes – smoked brisket!
Convenience store/gas stations are getting in on the action, too. You might stop at a Wawa for milk or gas, but it's coming to be known for subs, wraps, stuffed pretzels and breakfast sandwiches. Who could say no to something called a Hoagiefest, featuring "built-to-order" breakfast hoagies? (Yes, it’s a real thing)
Who Does It Best?
It depends whom you ask, of course, but one of the best known grocerants is Whole Foods. Then there’s Costco, Trader Joe’s, your favorite grocery store, and just about any other grocery-type brick-and-mortar that’s feeling the pinch of Amazon and other online retailers (see Why Are Retailers Expanding into Online Grocery?). You might be able to buy a giant pack of toilet paper online, but grocery stores now know that they can still corner the market by offering an amazing offering of prepared foods ready to take home and eat. Why cook when your grocery store will do it for you? And while you’re there, why not make life easy and pick up some paper towels, too?