Can grocery self-serve bars be safely re-imagined?
The hot food bar at a Whole Foods Market store in Denver was recently transformed into a holiday bazaar featuring toys and games. Missouri-based Dierbergs Markets earned national attention for filling its salad bar with mini bottles of liquor, beer, cereal and candy.
“We had originally put out other fresh foods, but it didn’t go over so well because everyone’s been stressed out,” Rick Rodemacher, director of a Dierbergs store in Manchester, told NBC News. “A group of the employees were talking and we thought we could make good use of the empty space and make people smile if we swapped out the salad bar for one that serves alcohol.”
Grocers shuttered self-serve stations or significantly restricted their use due to germ-spread concerns after the pandemic’s arrival. Foodservice had been a strong growth area for grocers over the last decade as Americans looked for less expensive options than restaurant take-out. For some grocers, foodservice stood out as a differentiator and supported lunch-time traffic.
Grab-and-go meals have also not been as in demand this year as social activities have been cancelled and many consumers have rediscovered home cooking.
Grocers are seeking alternatives to not only offset an underperforming area but remove an eyesore. Phil Myers, director of foodservice at Central Market in Texas, told CNBC, “A shut down salad bar that’s all steel and dark is not inviting.”
Wegmans and Albertsons are among grocers expanding selections of prepackaged salads, although that eliminates the customization that drives the appeal of salad buffets. Many are expanding offerings of cold and reheatable prepared foods.
Publix reopened its salad and hot bars during limited, peak hours, providing masked and gloved associates to assemble the salads to customers’ specifications. Robots are being used by some operators to remove the sanitary risks from having associates handle food.
Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly in Milwaukee just introduced Sally the Salad Robot. Pat Barnes, president of Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly, said in the statement, “Sally’s airtight fridge keeps ingredients safely contained from tamper or touch, so our customers can design a salad they love and can eat with confidence.”
- Whole Foods’ Bold New Direction in Foodservice – Winsight Grocery Business
- This Missouri grocery store repurposed its salad bar to serve mini bottles of liquor – NBC News
- Fans Lament the Tossing of Salad Bars – The Wall Street Journal
- So long, salad bar: Grocers get creative, consider robots to revive prepared food amid pandemic – CNBC
- Sally the Salad Robot – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- Welcome to the new buffet, which isn’t a buffet anymore – The Washington Post
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are the best options for grocers looking to repurpose their salad and hot bars? Does the pandemic threaten the long-term viability of self-service stations for grocers?