business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In the never-ending battle for share of stomach, there’s always been a challenge I felt supermarkets should pose.

Give a shopper one minute to order a pizza by phone from Dominos, Pizza Hut or whoever. Then let them grab any pizza out of the frozen, refrigerated or dairy case and put it in an oven. And 30 minutes later ask a series of questions:

Which was cheaper? I’m betting the supermarket variety wins this hands down.

Which was ready to eat faster? This may be a tie, but again in a majority of cases the supermarket pizza will win.

Which was more nutritious? This one will be impossible to battle. Because the supermarket pizza will come loaded with nutritional information. The delivered pizza isn’t likely to have that.

Which tastes better? Given the vastly improved quality of meal products in the supermarket, this one should be an easy win too.

In other words, it’s a win.

And in short, it’s why supermarket operators should be looking at the current economic climate with unbridled optimism. Now, sure I understand how the tough economy is impacting us all. It is plainly apparent from financial reporting by retailers and suppliers these days that profits are being pinched hard by rising costs and a well-founded reluctance to pass all the hikes onto increasingly budget minded shoppers.

So where is the optimism?

Look at the pizza example above and think of all the things shoppers tell us are most important these days. It comes down to money, feeding their family, eating more nutritiously somehow with less time than ever and somehow making it all taste good.

Ergo, the pizza. Because in these challenging times we can demonstrate to shoppers how well aligned we are with their needs and wants. Perhaps, and I know this is radical, we can bring them back to the home dinner table when they realize how good and easily food can be put on the table.

It’s a lesson we shouldn’t have to repeat constantly, but reminders are necessary. And this is the perfect time to discuss this given that yesterday was the annual celebration of Family Meal Day. You might recall Family Meal Day is a holiday created at the suggestion of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. That’s the group that went looking for insights into dangerous behaviors among teenagers and came back with a stunning finding:

Children who eat at home with their families a majority of nights during the week have lower rates of cigarette smoking, eating disorders, and alcohol and substance abuse. And they have higher grades and friends who have similar traits. In short, it makes a powerful case for family mealtime at home.

The idea couldn’t be more tailor-made for this industry, but you wouldn’t know if from the lack of activity around Family Meal Day. The industry should not only push it as an annual holiday, it should push it weekly. The importance of family meals should be getting shouted from the mountains, but it isn’t. It isn’t even getting whispered.

Now, I have talked about this issue for years and always have been disappointed that beyond Subway and its ubiquitous eater, Jared, I never saw these kinds of messages. That was until a recent Sunday morning. There on television was a woman talking about preparing a pizza at home. The voiceover talked about the cost of doing that each week compared to buying from a restaurant and totaled up the savings impact of one pizza a week.

The total saved in a year: $312.

The company running the ad: Walmart.

I wonder: Does it make sense now?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .

KC's View:
I’m going to use the Content Guy’s prerogative and use this space to comment on Michael’s story.

First of all, I agree with him about Walmart. As has been previously pointed out here on MNB, the new Walmart grocery-oriented, price-driven ad campaign is an excellent one…it does not just point to low prices but also to quality, and sets the bar for consumer expectations even in those markets where Walmart is not a player. (If you watch MSNBC, the Walmart ads seem to be on even more than T. Boone Pickens’ commercials.) And, by the way, in pretty much every Walmart ad the consumer is shown using a canvas reusable shopping bag – talk about consistency!

Second, regarding Family Meal Day…I’ll go farther than Michael on this one. This is a colossal example of the supermarket industry dropping the ball on a game-changing issue. Now, I’ve been suggesting for years – long before the creation of Family Meal Day – that the family dinner ought to be the centerpiece of promotions and marketing efforts engineered both by individual chains and the industry as a whole. I agree with Michael that the goal ought to be one more dinner a week … one more dinner a year is, to be honest, a joke. (A well-intentioned joke, but a joke nonetheless.)

But aside from a couple of brief mentions on the news yesterday, apparently engineered by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), which created the concept a couple of years ago, I’ve seen almost nothing on this subject from the supermarket industry or the chains that comprise it.

Now, to be fair, the notion of the family meal is an ongoing theme for some chains. Wegmans immediately comes to mind. And Walmart is doing a better job these days. But best I can tell, most chains either ignored the notion of Family Meal Day, or simple let it pass as irrelevant to their goals and priorities.

Well, let me be blunt. There is no more relevant issue – both to the health of the supermarket industry’s bottom line and the health of the family – than getting families to sit down at the dinner table together as often as possible.