When the Recession was in full swing, consumers chose grocery stores, warehouse clubs and other retailers over restaurants, seeking out better deals on prepared foods. However, with the economic recovery underway, consumers seem to be returning back to restaurants, according to new research from Technomic.

The economic shift means consumers are purchasing retailer meal solutions (RMS) less often than they did two years ago. Thirty-eight percent of consumers said they purchase RMS from grocery stores each week, compared to 42 percent in 2010.

In response, RMS menu trends are changing to better compete with restaurant offerings. Some findings from the Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report include:

  • Some of the top RMS menu trends include signature fried snacks; more variety for vegetable sides; higher-quality pizzas; a distinct specialty focus for sandwiches and burgers; and a move toward ethnic flavors.
  • More than two-fifths of consumers who purchase RMS at least once a month (43 percent) say they do so four or more times per month, meaning they purchase RMS at least once a week.
  • More consumers today than those polled two years ago place a high importance on many attributes, including the value, price, convenience, taste, freshness and quality of prepared foods.
  • Opportunities exist for retailers to leverage their customization options to compete with restaurants; only 38 percent of consumers agree that retail prepared foods allow for more customization than food purchased from a restaurant.
  • At least four out of five consumers who visit each retail chain measured for prepared foods purchase RMS items at these locations at least once a month, reiterating the strong role routine and convenience plays in the RMS purchasing decision.
  • Though half of consumers think the quality of prepared foods has greatly improved since 2010, nearly two-fifths call for more name-brand foods that typically denote a higher quality perception.

"These consumers may be reversing the patterns they set a couple of years ago by heading back to restaurants," said Darren Tristano, vice president of Technomic. "For retailers to gain or maintain their share of foodservice dollars, they'll need to clearly stand out from restaurants — especially since our data shows that consumers' expectations are rising for the taste, quality, freshness and appearance of retailer prepared foods."

Read more about foodservice trends.

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