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Published: Friday, 11/18/2005

Area holiday diners joining trend to ready-cooked spreads

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Tracy Clegg and Jonathan Heigel, of Bassett's Market in Sylvania, display the dinner available for customers to order. Tracy Clegg and Jonathan Heigel, of Bassett's Market in Sylvania, display the dinner available for customers to order.
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Tired of spending all day cooking Thanksgiving dinner?

Many Americans apparently are, and that has fueled sales growth for complete pre-cooked holiday turkey dinners.

"We always hear things like, 'It may have been what Grandma did or what Mom did, but my time is too valuable to slave away in the kitchen,'●" said Phyllis Hammond, a spokesman for Boston Market.

The restaurant chain specializes in rotisserie chicken, but come holiday time it joins Kroger, Meijer, Giant Eagle, Bassett's Market, HoneyBaked Ham Co., and others nationwide in offering cooked turkeys and all the trimmings, including pie for dessert.

Most stores charge up to $60 for a 10 to 12-pound turkey, two or three side dishes, rolls, and a pie. Customers pre-order dinners and pick them up Thanksgiving Day.

Prepared whole turkey dinners have been offered in some form by certain retailers for nearly two decades, but the phenomenon has taken off in the last few years as more grocery chains increase lines of prepared meals, food industry analysts said.

"The problem 20 years ago was most of the food was not very good," said Howard Solganik, of Solganik and Associates, a food industry consulting firm in Dayton. "The best you could get was a thawed-out frozen turkey and some frozen side dishes, and it was like eating a frozen turkey TV dinner."

But in the last five years the quality has improved dramatically, so the food tastes much better, he said.

Mark Katafiasz, manager of the new Bassett's Market in Sylvania, said demand for precooked turkey dinners this year has been surprising, considering that his store opened only in the last several weeks.

The field is fairly competitive, too, said Mr. Katafiasz, who previously was a store manager with the former Food Town chain. Pre-cooked turkey dinner "is a grocery-store staple anymore." He estimated that each area grocery store selling the meals likely sells 40 or more for Thanksgiving.

Kroger has been getting holiday meal inquiries since October, spokesman Monica Gordon said. "People have been asking whether the holiday dinners will be available and when can they order."

The chain has six varieties of dinners.

A National Restaurant Association survey last year found that just over half of Americans said they relied on food prepared away from home for part or all of their Thanksgiving dinners.

Ms. Hammond, of Boston Market, said it was such numbers that prompted her company to start offering complete turkey dinners two years ago. Last year, the chain sold 30,000 nationwide, and this year it expects to sell 50,000, she said.

Neil Stern, a food analyst at McMillan Doolittle consulting in Chicago, said it is difficult to estimate how lucrative the meals are for stores, or the true size of the trend.

Supermarkets are selling whole, frozen turkeys for as little as 37 cents a pound, using them to lure shoppers but losing money at it, while the pre-cooked meals are profit source, he said.

The latter, he added, are clearly becoming more popular.

"It's absolutely growing because of improvement in products, and customers are increasingly looking for convenience because many of them don't even know how to cook anymore."

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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