Americans were already convenience-obsessed before COVID. Busy lifestyles and a willingness to pay more for options that made their food prep easier converged to drive strong demand for value-added and a host of other convenience-focused products.

In the pandemic, millions of Americans got used to ordering more foods and other necessities online, working from home and, in general, adjusting their lives in the directions of time- and effort-saving.

The result is that the already hot convenience trend just got a lot hotter, and it has no signs of cooling anytime soon. Combine that with greater demand for fresh foods, and you have a winning formula for grocery fresh departments for years to come.

From grab-and-go snacks to fully prepared entrees and everything in between, convenience will be front and center throughout the fresh perimeter in 2023, said Megan Shumaker, senior manager of category solutions for Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy Daymon Worldwide.

“Consumers continue to balance their hectic lifestyles with a sustained interest in healthier eating,” which adds up to surging demand for convenience items in the fresh perimeter, Shumaker said. 

And convenient doesn’t have to mean premium-priced, she added. With consumers watching their wallets but still valuing the convenience of takeout, now is the time for retailers to promote the overall superior value of private-branded packaged fresh foods, which are typically cheaper than restaurant takeout.

Innovation in the convenience category continues to drive growth for retailers, encouraging incremental trips for shoppers that builds loyalty through retailers’ private brand programs, Shumaker said. Unique fresh-prepared food assortments can serve as a critical differentiator for retailers. One example is exclusive signature items or rotating seasonal assortments. “Retailers can offer signature salads and bowls with signature sauces, value-added proteins and vegetables with distinctive marinades, or unique deli sandwiches made with freshly baked bread from the bakery,” Shumaker said. 

One of the most significant opportunities for retailers in convenience perimeter items is in the category of healthier, less processed deli prepared offerings. Whether it’s a grab-and-go sandwich or pasta dish, consumers are increasingly looking for options tailored to their unique health needs, Shumaker said.

“This is an area where we see a gap in consumer interest and many deli offerings of today. While health-focused restaurant chains continue to grow and consumer demand for healthier options intensifies, only about one-third of consumers say they are very satisfied with the nutrition level in fresh prepared foods offerings.”

Retailers, she added, also have a golden opportunity to maximize consumer needs with convenient and nutritious private brand offerings that have trending superfoods and more plant-based ingredients, while marketing their overall ingredient transparency.