retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

LAS VEGAS - Bryan Silberman, the always-insightful head of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), offered an interesting perspective on food trends Monday at the National Grocers Association (NGA) show here.

Silberman noted that many emerging food tastes start in the restaurant industry and migrate to supermarkets. It makes sense and it’s an important reason for supermarkets to always keep a competitive eye targeted at restaurants because like it or not, that’s the competition for the food dollar.

Just understand that the competition cuts both ways. Sometimes it cuts really close.

For years I’ve written and done speeches about the importance of winning back family mealtime, with all the benefits that has for the retail food industry and American families. I’ve cited countless statistics about the benefits family meals have on health—and way beyond physical health. As repeated studies have shown, teens in families that eat together have better grades, better habits and are better connected to their parents.

Turns out that someone was listening…McDonald’s!

I recently caught a radio ad with McDonald’s talking about family breakfast time. It wasn’t just about food. It was about the teen-age daughter disclosing the name of her new boyfriend and grandma talking about her week and…well, you get the picture.

That is exactly the dynamic of family meals. And that’s what supermarkets should be talking about.

Now, I have nothing against McDonald’s. Especially when I’m on the road I know I can count on the Golden Arches for two things: really fast food that tastes the same every time. I admire the company’s dedication to detail, plus its endless search to find new ways to make the same old meal seam interesting. I mean, really is it such a big thing that the McRib is back again?

And no doubt there are families who for countless reasons (economic and convenience, primarily) find McDonald’s the best place for food when they have no time to cook. You may disagree on their choice, but McDonald’s value proposition is simple and undeniable.

But the family meal belongs elsewhere. It belongs at home. For lots of reasons.

First, restaurants are distracting. Have you ever tried to have a conversation in McDonald’s? It’s noisy, distracting and remember, the goals is to get out quickly. I’d stay to use their free Wi-Fi, but a conversation isn’t happening. And it gets more challenging at slightly nicer restaurants that these days seem decorated with endless television sets turned to various sporting events.

Second, family meals are about compromise. At my family table as both a child and a parent we had simple rules on food choices. It all started with whatever my mom or wife (I’ve been blessed with the company of terrific cooks) made. Substitutions were possible only after you tried what you were given and those substitutions were limited.

At restaurants, we all get what we want. We’re eating at the same time, but really not together.

Third, while many restaurants now feature calorie counts (and isn’t that a way to quickly lose your appetite) it’s hard to get a more nutritious or economical meal than one made at home. Sure, the McDonald’s value menu is a tough proposition to beat, but there are countless dishes that can be made easily, cheaply and more healthily at home.

Now, certainly not everyone has the time, skill or inclination to cook, but that’s the need the supermarket has to keep addressing. Stores need to talk to shoppers about the fun, taste and ease of getting meals on the table. Even though this has been a priority for years—and much progress has been made—it’s a subject that needs constant attention.

Because McDonald’s, which is having significant challenges maintaining or growing sales at the moment, just upped the ante by talking about the dynamic that is family mealtime, with the hijinks, conversations and whatever else makes it memorable.

The challenge has been issued … now how will you answer? Remember, when it comes to competition, you don’t ever get a break today.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View: