NGA Research Key Insight: Driving a Winning Strategy in Prepared Foods

May 24, 2017

Green Valley Drives Winning Strategy in Prepared Foods

Freshness is essential when it comes to prepared foods.

That’s a guiding principle in the successful prepared foods business of Baltimore-based independent retailer Green Valley Marketplace, whose approach underscores findings of a recent National Grocers Association study.

NGA produced a research piece that details shoppers’ needs and how independents can raise their games. The research, called “The Independent Consumer,” was conducted for NGA by Nielsen. It was introduced at The NGA Show in Las Vegas earlier this year.

The report’s findings include the importance of prepared foods and the imperative of emphasizing freshness. The great majority of independent food store shoppers surveyed – some 85% — said it’s extremely or very important for prepared foods to be made fresh every day. Respondents said freshness and appearance are crucial components. One respondent said it’s important to “use fresh spices like cilantro or basil.” Another underscored the need to have prepared foods “always hot and fresh even at night.”

A freshness strategy powers the innovative approaches of two-store Green Valley, part of B. Green & Co., which plays this up across its operation. Consider this compelling statement from its website:

“What makes our deli different? Fresh food from scratch! How many supermarkets around here can say that? We can! Many of our deli items are made right in the store.”

Joanne Fischer, Green Valley’s director of Deli/Bakery, explained how freshness is central to the retailer’s prepared foods game plan.

“About 85% of the items are fresh-made in the store from scratch, using fresh ingredients,” she emphasized.

This includes fresh chicken wings with a combination of sauces, a range of salads from Penn-Dutch potato salad to Greek pasta salad, and creamy cole slaw.

An extensive cold lunch sandwich program is led by wraps and a variety of breads. Sandwich offerings include mozzarella with tomato and pesto, and turkey with avocado. A hot bar dinner program features homemade meatloaf, stuffed chicken breast and shepherds pie.  A catering program showcases items not typically available in stores, such as cranberry-walnut chicken salad and Buffalo chicken salad.

In addition, a heat-and-eat cold dinner assortment offers convenience to time-starved shoppers by promoting meals with protein and two sides, such as grilled chicken breast with roasted red potatoes and a vegetable. The items include meals for two and family-size meals. Stuffed turkey rolls are popular in the winter.  Grilled chicken Alfredo with pasta and meatballs is another big hit.

“There’s so much opportunity with this [heat and eat] because people looking for something easy and quick with a range of health options,” Fischer said.

The NGA research results pointed to the importance of competitive prices in prepared foods, and Green Valley is well positioned in that regard.

“If you go to a restaurant for the same meals we have, it would cost a lot more,” Fischer said. “And we’re probably below retail competitors’ pricing on items such as family meals for four.”

The NGA study also found safe food handling is very important to prepared foods consumers. That doesn’t surprise Green Valley’s Fischer, who is a certified teacher in food handling. However, she added, the retailer’s customers “don’t ask about food handling as much as they ask about ingredients and how the food is prepared. Our customers are looking for fresh food prepared in store.” She added that the retailer doesn’t get many questions.

Overall, Green Valley differentiates in the marketplace with a deep understanding of local tastes and a willingness to push the prepared foods envelope more than bigger competitors. As an example, the operator is known for signature items like its crab pretzel and its famous original and spicy fresh fried chicken.

“We are very creative in what we make and do,” Fischer said, recalling the recent case of an employee from New Orleans who successfully helped the retailer introduce Cajun recipes.

“If I have a clerk who has a great recipe, I may say ‘let’s try it.’ That sets us apart from the large chains.”

The NGA research was sponsored by The Shelby Report. The survey was conducted online last November within the United States by Harris Poll.  It surveyed 1902 U.S. adults 18 and over to explore their food shopping habits. NGA will further spotlight insights from the research throughout the year, including key insight pieces, profiles of independent retailers that exhibit best practices, and a webinar that will highlight key independent growth opportunities. The focus is on obtaining takeaways and action steps from the insights.

For the full report, which includes insights and methodology, visit