Reflections on the symbiotic relationship between restaurants and supermarkets
As the line between restaurants and supermarkets continues to blur, the battle for greater share of America's food dollars will only intensify as consumers modify their food consumption behaviors for a host of cultural, lifestyle, and economic reasons. Yet we don't see restaurants and supermarkets in some frenzied battle with each other the way many industry analysts do. When looking at this issue through the lens of the consumer, as we do, we see that restaurants and supermarkets actually coexist and play unique roles in satisfying consumers' craving for authentic, high-quality flavor and food experiences.
Today, consumers have a heightened awareness of quality and are unbound by culinary rules or tradition. Americans have been appropriating food, flavors, and cuisines for years. They are devoting increasing attention to exploring innovative flavor options both in and out of restaurants. So it is no surprise to us to see an expanding array of restaurant brands adorning grocers' shelves. And retailers looking to snag a few dollars away from restaurants and bolster center store sales are all too willing to oblige. It all begs the question: why is this happening?
For the last few years, we've been at the forefront of a conversation about how chefs are now the leading influencers and educators in the dialog about where food, flavors, preparations, and health are headed. From a wellness and sustainability perspective, chefs are nudging consumers to consider the relationship between food and supply systems, sustainability, and how we eat.
"We chefs now have responsibilities that transcend our knife skills. Chefs have a new opportunity – and perhaps even an obligation – to inform the public about what is good to eat, and why."
-- René Redzepi, Danish chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark
In addition to influencing notions of sustainability, wellness, and nutrition, chefs influence consumers from a purely hedonic perspective, leading the conversation on discovery and pleasure in food culture. Restaurants, as well as chefs on food television, for example, have helped consumers discover their growing passion for global and ethnic cuisines. Thus, it only makes sense that chefs transfer that knowledge and credibility via products that allow consumers to experience and recreate new, interesting flavor experiences at home—both in the global cuisine space as well as with more mainstream flavors and products.
Restaurants getting into the retail game cover the gamut of market offerings from down-market T.G.I. Friday's Potato Skins chips and appetizers (which amounts to little more than a licensing deal for use of the name) to upmarket, more innovative, chef-inspired flavors and products by the likes of Tom Douglas (Rub with Love), Rick Bayless (Frontera), Wolfgang Puck, and Thomas Keller (Ad Hoc at Williams-Sonoma).
With the proliferation and popularity of food media, consumers have been inspired to seek out new culinary experiences, which chefs are providing, so there is a new flow of inspiration these days. The point at which consumers seek out those new food experiences varies by eating occasion; they can choose to dine out or shop the supermarket aisle, but both venues are equally influential.
The intersection of food media and restaurant chefs is driving a new way of consuming inspiration for food. Consumers are increasingly seeking out higher-quality experiences when it comes to cuisines and are consistently hoping to find the new flavors and foods they experience in restaurants (e.g., local, seasonal, or ethnic) translated for them on store shelves. As restaurant brands look for grocery store shelf space for their products, supermarkets are getting into the restaurant game. Wegmans, Whole Foods Market, Schnucks, and Hy-Vee, for example, have been hiring chefs and bulking up their culinary training programs for several years.
We believe the great opportunity for chefs' products, and the retailers that carry them, lies in the upmarket space where chefs can leverage their creativity and credibility in offerings that can be used on fresh-cooking occasions, allowing them to popularize, without over-diluting, the power of their brand.