February 28/Chicago/Press Release -- Supermarket prepared food sales have grown more than 6% annually over the past five years, a new research report by Technomic shows.

The steady growth of prepared foods at retail, researchers at the market research firm concluded, may be spurred by retailers -- as prepared food margins in general strengthened -- looking at their prepared food programs as profit centers rather than just traffic drivers as they had in the past.

Technomic spokespeople reiterated what they have said recently: that retailers will need to continue to raise the bar on their meal solutions offerings, especially as the economy improves and consumers begin to return to restaurants.    

The changing ways consumers eat -- where and when -- and how they shop for food, all figure into the upward swing in prepared food and ready-to-eat food at retail, the report indicated. The prevalence of meal solutions also was noted by researchers. Not only are they offered in large variety at supermarkets, but also at mass marketers, drug stores and convenience stores, they pointed out in the report.

“Gone are the days of trips to the grocery store designed to address a family’s needs for the next one to two weeks,” explained Wade Hanson, Technomic principal and director of the firm’s retailer meal solutions practice, in a statement when the report was released. “Instead, consumers shop more often and use many different types of stores with an eye toward fresh foods and ready-to-eat meals.”