A decade ago, about 70% of all grocery perimeter cases were service and 30% were self-serve, estimates Dan Frigo, regional sales manager for Milwaukee-based Hatco Corp.
It’s still 70/30 today, Frigo says — only the 70% belongs to self-serve and the 30% to service.
“Self-serve continues to grow,” he says. “It could be from labor concerns, or it could be customers’ desire for less interaction. People’s consumption patterns have changed dramatically in the last ten years.”
Many retailers still want to differentiate themselves through the “personal touch” of a service-case interaction, Frigo says. But he also wonders how much younger consumers want such interactions.
The most significant design trend in perimeter cases, Frigo says, is on the self-serve end of the spectrum. It’s so new, he says, “it doesn’t even know it’s a trend yet.”
Frigo is referring to Hatco’s newest product, a heated air curtain until that is open for self-service, like a sandwich slide, but that provides the longer hold times normally associated with a convected air cabinet.
“It's the best of both worlds, and since its introduction last summer, many of our existing convenience store customers have found it to be a game changer,” he says. “It's just a question of time before the grocery stores begin to see the application.”
Because it brings holding cabinet-like hold times to a self-serve footprint, Hatco’s air curtain offers more efficient labor usage, while providing easy access to the end user, which in turn increases sales, Frigo says.
Hatco’s other self-serve products for the perimeter include its GR2SDH sandwich displays, which hold not only deli prepared sandwiches but whole rotisserie chickens and other value-added items, Frigo says.
In addition to supplying its own equipment to retailers, Hatco also creates custom displays which are then sold to more traditional "fixture" companies like Hussman, Structural Concepts and Southern Store.
Those companies, Frigo says, take Hatco units or components and build them into their own carts or cabinets.
“Most of these types of solutions utilize a balance of base conductive heat and overhead infrared heat and lighting to promote products being held for fairly short periods — often less than an hour — although certain packaging can lengthen hold times beyond that for some products like rotisserie chicken.”
For longer hold times, often twice as long, Hatco’s Heated and Humidified cabinets are used for pizza, fried chicken pieces and other items marketed in the deli prepared foods sections of supermarket perimeters.
That blend of convected heat and, in many cases, humidity works well with many foods that tend to dry out under radiant heat, and provides the operator greater flexibility and improved quality over longer holding periods, Frigo says.
“Until quite recently, these types of cabinets have been enclosed, requiring the customer or employee to open a door to access them. Our rock-solid GRHD cabinets are still very popular for deli areas, holding products like fried chicken dinners, as well as the sides that accompany them. “
Hatco also has seen an uptick in holding cabinets like its PFST, located at checkout end caps, which holds to-go pizzas.
Hatco’s sales to fixture companies continue to grow as grocery stores expand their to-go and meal delivery programs. The company also is noticing more opportunities to utilize its under-mount induction warmers for buffet style serving areas.
“Rather than adding heated shelves and the heat they provide to the room, a hidden under-mount induction warmer can provide precise heat to a specific vessel, while being completely hidden from view,” he says.
Also on the self-serve side, Hatco is adding new countertop cooking solutions, which Frigo says will provide some grab-and-go snacking opportunities to the coffee/snack shop locations in many newer grocery stores.
For Greensboro, North Carolina-based retail chain The Fresh Market, the percentage of space in the perimeter dedicated to service or self-serve display cases varies significantly by need, depending on the store and the particular department (deli, meat/seafood and produce), says Peter Mayes, the company’s director of meat and seafood merchandising.
For The Fresh Market, the service/self-serve decision also often comes down to how well one or the other suits the chain’s overarching goal: to help consumers put together meals.
“The overall focus for The Fresh Market as a fresh specialty grocer is our easy meal solutions, including chef-inspired entrées, customizable Bistro Meals featuring entrées and sides from our deli, Market Meal Kits made fresh in-store with fresh prepped ingredients and weekly four-serving Little Big Meals,” Mayes says.
Some Fresh Market service-case items are more inspirational to plan a meal around, like the single-serve seafood items sold in ramekins that consumers take and bake at home, including lobster macaroni and cheese, seafood lasagna and Oishi sea bass.
Other service items, Mayes says, are meant to spark conversations with the chain’s butchers — for instance, how to cook a perfect ribeye. The Fresh Market also offers a number of entrees, sides and salads at its deli service cases.
“Convenience for the guest is the ultimate driving factor,” Mayes says. “Helping them serve a fresh, delicious meal for their family whether it is ready to eat, ready to heat or ready to cook. Having some of these items fresh and ready in a display case also helps our guests with ease of purchase.”
As its customers’ needs for convenient, easy meal solutions have increased, The Fresh Market has increased the number of display cases to fill that need in the meat, produce and deli areas of its stores.
“Products that are self-service items at The Fresh Market are our easy meal solutions – the chef-inspired entrees and meal kits, or easy side dishes that are ready to heat,” Mayes says. “Produce also offers a number of fresh-prepped items, such as zucchini noodles or trimmed, cut and seasoned Brussels sprouts and asparagus tips.”
More and more, The Fresh Market’s focus is on providing easy, convenient meal solutions for its customers, Mayes says – whether they’re time-crunched, need some culinary shortcuts to serve a fresh, healthy meal on the table for their family, or make it easier and faster for them to shop for themselves or their family.
“There are advantages to having both service and self-serve depending on the needs of the guests,” he says. “Having a conversation with our cheese specialist can help them customize a cheese and charcuterie platter, or our butchers who can custom cut and trim a filet mignon to their liking. Having ready to eat, ready to heat or ready to cook options in our self-serve cases helps our guests who have limited time to shop and cook, but who still want to serve a fresh-prepared meal to their family.”