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Why Ready-To-Eat Meals are an Important Investment for Grocers

Ready-to-eat meals are a way for grocers to meet shopper needs and increase profit margin per order. The Mercatus platform makes it easy.

Grocery shopping behavior has changed dramatically. More people are shopping online now than ever before, seeking out safe and convenient ways to buy their food. Retailers are offering new order fulfillment options, from home delivery to curbside pickup to remote location pickup, to satisfy how consumers want to shop.

More meals at home brings new challenges

As people change the way they shop, they’re also changing where they spend their money. Pre-pandemic, consumers’ spend skewed towards food-away-from-home expenses like vacations, buying coffee on the commute to work and dining at restaurants. But as the pandemic has discouraged travel, shut down offices and forced restaurants to close in-house dining, shoppers have shifted their spend to food-at-home purchases from supermarkets and takeout from restaurants. 

More than half (55%) of US consumers have reported eating meals at home more often than before the pandemic began, according to research by Acosta. Some will have gone from eating up to three meals per day away from home, to eating every meal at home, often with spouses and kids to feed as well. Working from home is leaving many consumers to juggle longer working hours with multiple video calls per day, while preparing meals for their families and managing remote schooling.

ready-to-eat meals woman is frustrated with man taking a long time to decide what to order online

Pressed for time, consumers are also quickly cycling through their regular recipes and experiencing “menu fatigue.” The report by Acosta also found that the two biggest challenges shoppers report around meal planning are COVID-19 concerns and planning different meals every day.

Restaurant takeout is a helpful option for convenience and variety, but costs can quickly add up, with delivery service charges and price markups on third-party apps. Here lies an opportunity for ready-to-eat meals provided by local supermarkets.

How ready-to-eat-meals can help

Grocery retailers have the opportunity to meet their shoppers’ needs by offering ready-to-eat meals in-store and online. Ready-to-eat meals are typically available from a limited menu of products. They can be sold separately or in combination to make up a ready-made meal. Examples could be a roast chicken with salad and potatoes, or a pizza with selected toppings. And don’t forget desserts, like customized birthday cakes or pies.

Benefits of ready-to-eat meals for shoppers

Lower prices: Prepared meals can be competitively priced because menu options are limited and products are prepared in-store. Shoppers can further reduce costs by bundling ready-to-eat meals with their grocery orders and paying the service fee only once. They can also take advantage of the lower fees generally offered with curbside grocery pickup.

Convenience: Ready-to-eat meals reduce the time and energy needed to prepare a meal at home, while offering the variety consumers are craving. Shoppers can easily add these prepared foods to their regular grocery order online, so they can cover off grocery shopping and meal prep in one trip. With multiple fulfillment options available, shoppers can elect to have their prepared meal delivered, or pick it up at a time and location convenient to them.

Benefits of ready-to-eat meals for retailers

Higher margin per order: Because prepared foods are made in-store, grocers take away a higher margin per sale. With share-of-wallet moving to food-at-home categories, ready-to-eat meals are a great way to compete for more consumer spend. 

Brand differentiation: Grocers can demonstrate quality and value, sourcing fresh and local ingredients for their prepared meals program to differentiate themselves from competitors and build brand recognition with new and existing shoppers.

Use up floorspace: Pre-pandemic, retailers captured a large portion of the ready-to-eat meal spend at lunch hours and from commuters on the way home from work. But salad and soup stations that were once busy are now sources of concern for shoppers when it comes to health safety. With ready-to-eat meals, experts suggest that grocers can reposition these areas of the store by filling stations with grab-and-go packaged meals. Some retailers, including Kroger, have even converted floorspace into dark kitchens, to further increase utilization and capture market share from the restaurant vertical.

How grocers can leverage technology to offer prepared meals

So how can grocers leverage technology to reap the benefits outlined above? By partnering with a solution provider like Mercatus who can seamlessly integrate ready-to-eat meals into your online shopping experience, from order to fulfillment. 

Replicate your unique brand experience online

Whether it’s a prepared family meal, a made to order pizza, or a customized platter or birthday cake, grocery stores can play a part in special occasions for every household. Even though we aren’t gathering in the same numbers we used to, we’re all still looking to make celebratory occasions special. 

ready-to-eat meals like rotisserie chicken can be ordered online

The Mercatus platform makes planning for any special occasion easy and convenient for your customers. As they build their online grocery order, they can include a customized ready-to-eat meal or side dish that’s dinner table–ready, for pickup at curbside or delivery to doorstep.

Order fulfillment unique to grocery

With our Enhanced Fulfillment solution, grocers can easily scale their ready-to-eat meals and grocery order fulfillment services without compromising the quality of service or products. This solution is custom built for grocery, so your team can assemble, pack and dispatch orders while accounting for the unique needs of each order, including:


  • Preparation, storage and packing of hot meals versus fresh or frozen foods.

  • Time needed to assemble customized products like sandwiches or cakes. This includes consideration of preparing products like cakes from frozen versus fresh.

  • Order change requests. Shoppers can communicate with your team in real-time regarding order adjustments. They forgot to order an extra side of mashed potatoes? Is the selected product out-of-stock? Your team can communicate directly with shoppers to complete the order to their satisfaction.

And better yet, your shoppers won’t be left waiting in the cold for their hot meals. With Mercatus Enhanced Fulfillment, you can have your shopper’s order ready for safe and convenient contact-free curbside pickup within two minutes or less.

ready-to-eat meals curbside pickup

As retailers look to meet the evolving needs of their customers, having a partner like Mercatus makes it easy to keep up. Discover how you can leverage the Mercatus platform and Mercatus Enhanced Fulfillment to offer ready-to-eat meals to your shoppers today. 

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Mark Fairhurst
Mark develops the overall marketing strategy for Mercatus and leads the team responsible for market development, branding, and demand generation.
Marketing