HMR top of mind at GIC

Supermarket Chef Showdown highlights importance of strong HMR offerings

The final day of Grocery Innovations Canada organized by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers was dedicated to consumer insights shared by industry experts.

The morning began with a presentation by Jacques Farcy, COO of Dunnhumby Canada, called “Deep Dive into Data Insights.” Farcy spoke of how big data can be used for everything from deciding which items to put in a flyer to predicting the impact of trends on brands.

The conference continued with Bryan Gildenberg, chief knowledge officer at Kantar Retail,  whose presentation was geared to help retailers understand their consumer and create lasting relationships. His talk touched on how promotions will move toward being less broad and more precise (and mobile-based) moving forward, how stores will be more tech-enabled and how it's important for grocers to figure out how to use digital tools to happily surprise customers during what are traditionally habit-fuelled shopping trips.

A busy morning of workshops on key topics impacting the grocery world ranged from health to financials filled the remainder of the conference portion of the day.

And while the workshops and presentations fell under a wide range of topics, HMR seemed to be top of mind for many during the two-day conference.

On GIC’s first day, Tom Barlow, president of CFIG, discussed the importance of HMR with an all-star CEO panel.

Jeff York, CEO of Farm Boy, noted a grocer’s HMR section can be “as big as you want it to be.” York warned that if a retailer is hesitant or unprepared to start their own HMR offering, it isn’t something they should get into because it could tarnish their brand.

All retailers agreed an HMR section should be able to offer food options that are of restaurant quality, if not better. Many of the CEOs acknowledged the importance of the team of chefs they have in-store that create meal options on a daily basis, giving shoppers an option for a healthy, home-cooked meal rather than fast food takeaway. Alexei Tsvetkov, CEO of Yummy Market, noted that his store makes 750 chef-prepared dishes.

Darrell Jones, president of Overwaitea Food Group, said that if a grocer can deliver a unique HMR offering, it can be a real point of difference because customers won't find that in a Walmart or a Real Canadian Superstore. For example, Overwaitea sells fresh sushi made in store, and has a "hot wing bar" every day after 12 p.m. that Jones said is doing really well.

Conference attendees were able to see these chefs in action at the Supermarket Chef Showdown, which took place both days of the conference. In the live cook-off challenges, four supermarket chefs faced off cooking HMR dishes using a special ingredient. The event was a new feature of the tradeshow, and chefs were judged in categories including taste, presentation and packaging – all features a shopper would take note of when choosing an HMR product to take home.

At the cook-off on Monday, Cori Bonina of Stong's Market was one of the judges and laughed about another name for HMR: "buy and lie," since her customers will buy the product and tell their guests they cooked it themselves. Like other grocer judges that day, she agreed that HMR is a good way to use product that you've got too much of or is almost past its prime. Stong's created a banana bread, for example, to use the store's overripe bananas; it's become so popular that it now sells in other stores.

Alongside retailers, food manufacturers were also quick to point out the importance of HMR. On Tuesday, McCain’s Judy McArthur, customer marketing manager, and Irene Stathakos, director of insights, took a look at the growth behind home meal replacement, who is the HMR consumer and the key drivers in their workshop session.

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