Grocery stores are posing mounting competition to restaurants, with an influx in prepared foods, grab-and-go meals, fast casuals and even full-service restaurants within the retail stores themselves. And a number of operators are fighting back against those blurred lines by creating some restaurant-retail mashups of their own.
In response, grocery stores and other retail concepts are upping their foodservice game. Amazon Go, for example, is trading on convenience for time-pressed, tech-savvy consumers by focusing on grab-and-go fresh prepared foods with its totally frictionless store. And Whole Foods is well-known for incubating emerging fast-casual concepts in its stores. Here are some of the latest restaurant chains to branch out with hybrid stores that merge limited-service concepts with grab-and-go and retail.
1. Newk’s Express Market, multiple locations
Fast casual Newk’s Eatery, the sandwich, salad and pizza chain founded by the team that created McAlister’s Deli, has rolled out its Express Market concept at 49 units—and plans to transform the existing grab-and-go coolers at all of its more than 120 units in coming months to the updated retail space. “Our competitors in the grocery space have been elevating their game,” said Michelle Spohnholz, the chain’s vice president of marketing. “This is our opportunity to leverage all the produce and gourmet ingredients we have.” The grab-and-go area, which has a separate cashier, includes prepared proteins such as broiled shrimp, sliced chicken and flash-seared ahi tuna. There are also family-sized containers of soup and items such as a pimento cheese ball, once only offered in catering packages. In the first quarter of 2019, the chain will test grab-and-go snack boxes, Spohnholz said. “We’ve learned our customers who come in for lunch will pick up dinner on the way out,” she said. “The more our operators get behind it and keep it stocked, the better it performs.”
2. The Tavern by Sweetgreen, Washington, D.C.
Sweetgreen, a fast-casual salad chain, recently transformed a shuttered unit into a year-round farmers’ market of sorts. The Tavern sells produce from farmers that supply Sweetgreen restaurants, as well as Parmesan crisps and local cheeses that are cross-utilized on the chain’s menu. The mini market also sells frozen yogurt, a customer favorite that Sweetgreen shelved several years ago. The Tavern is also slated to become a pickup location for online orders placed at one of the chain’s nearby units.
3. Real Good Stuff Co., Chicago
The Chicago-based smoothie and juice chain formerly known as Real Good Juice Co. has rebranded to Real Good Stuff Co. to reflect its expanded service model, which now includes a corner store concept. Earlier this month, the company opened Real Good River North, a 1,500-square-foot market space that’s like a mini food hall-plus-convenience store. “We’re rethinking how we look at the corner store,” CEO and founder Jon Schiff said. “It’s our way to be disruptive in the food space.” The location includes a smoothie bar, a hot foods counter with customizable bowls and a sweets corner with nondairy soft serve and locally produced pastries. The grab-and-go area features retail versions of some of the menu ingredients, such as small chunks of local cheese and produce from area farmers. There’s also a wide selection of high-end, health-focused snacks, juices and condiments. Real Good Stuff Co. plans to open four more of the corner store concepts in the coming year and is in the process of closing out a financing round, Schiff said.