Technology and Consumer Shifts Shaping Supermarkets of the Future in a Big Way

Food businesses around the world will have to adapt and change in order to remain competitive now and in the future – both online and in-store on the retail level, as well as at sorting and grading stations in the field and at processing plants where value is added to enhance product line offerings. Bjorn Thumas, the director of business development food for Leuven, Belgium-based TOMRA Food, has written about what we can expect to see in this regard in the article that follows.

Disruptive change is coming to supermarkets and this will have a ripple effect throughout the food industry supply chain. Technical innovations, and shifting consumer demands will re-shape the supermarket of the future. And that future is approaching fast.

Tomra onlineshoperProof that we are on the brink of a supermarket revolution came last year when e-commerce giant Amazon invested $13.7 (€11.7) billion in acquiring the Whole Foods Market supermarket chain. This promises to be a game-changer in food retailing. And it is not only in funky-looking offices in Seattle where the supermarket is being re-imagined. Other specialized enterprises already fulfill online grocery orders by delivering directly to customers’ front doors, and more businesses will jump on the bandwagon.

WFM store

Traditional bricks-and-mortar supermarket chains, seeing that they are at risk of losing power and profits in this revolution, are strengthening their own e-commerce capabilities. The value attached to Whole Foods Market by Amazon will have come as a wake-up call: established food retail chains must use CRM data to increase sales. While it is true that Whole Foods Market has stores only in the USA and the UK, and that today’s online innovators such as Instacart are mostly US-based, the shift to selling more food online will quickly sweep through developed nations.

Look to Asia for Growth

During the next decade the global grocery e-commerce market is forecast to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 13.5%, from an annual value of €43 billion today to €135 billion by 2025. Business analysts note that although e-commerce players are making efforts to establish a foothold in the USA and Europe, they face serious challenges here because the existing grocery market is saturated and margins are low. This means global growth in food e-commerce will be driven by Asia, where there is highest consumer willingness to purchase groceries online, combined with rapid urbanization, low labor costs, and a relatively undeveloped retail market.

Alibaba Group logoTo give just one example of growth potential, in China, the world’s most populous nation, the e-commerce share of the grocery market is currently only 4.2%. To put this into perspective, in nearby Japan the share is 7.2% and in South Korea it is already 16.6%. This is a sure indicator that businesses such as the Chinese multinational conglomerate Alibaba Group, owner of, will be at the vanguard of big changes.

Rising Expectations

Widespread food shopping online and fast deliveries to customers’ front doors will be just the beginning of this brave new world. Computer codes and algorithms will also enable supermarkets to personalize their offering to customers, using data gathered about shoppers’ individual habits and preferences. The “Recommended for You” web page so familiar to buyers of products such as books and electrical goods can also direct shoppers towards the foods they like.

In turn, food shoppers will develop higher expectations and a more critical eye when buying fruits or vegetables. The growing number of people around the world with middle-class incomes and lifestyles will become more aware of food safety and more curious about how their foods are being sourced and screened. Discerning “foodies” will even be able to check information about the origins and nutritional value of produce, and see suggestions for recipes and food pairings. This will attract and addict greater numbers of customers while cleverly making each one feel as if they are being treated individually.

The ad-hoc demand created through these online “nudges” will challenge the traditional food supply chain. Processing lines will need to know in precise detail what is coming in from the field and what is in storage in order to meet demand. And quality and safety standards will have to be higher than ever. In the past consumers might have ignored a defect or made a complaint only seen by the grocery chain or food manufacturer, but social media will change that. A photo of something like a frog in a bag of lettuce can quickly go viral and global, reaching enough people to cause brand damage.

Technology to the Rescue

These opportunities and threats mean that machines produced by TOMRA, a provider of optical food sorting and peeling equipment, will play an increasing role in meeting customers’ expectations and protecting suppliers’ reputations. Grading and inspection equipment – at point-of-origin, prior to shipment to the supermarket, or from the on-line dispatching warehouse – can ensure the produce has the desired size and ripeness without bruising or mold. In addition, sorting equipment at different stages in the supply chain will be able to provide essential information on sizing, quality and other quality markers.

In readiness for these needs, the sorting equipment made by TOMRA is being enabled to share data to ensure the highest standards of quality and safety. These machines are also being fine-tuned in data gathering and application to help processors pick the correct incoming material, to get to the final product in the most efficient way.

Traditional supermarkets are fighting back against the online disruptors – and information about shoppers’ preferences and habits will be an important weapon. Consumer-facing technologies, such as shopping cart-mounted devices or smart phone apps, will steer customers towards the aisles and shelves where they are more likely to make purchases. Sensors in the store’s shelves will keep track of the items shoppers put in their carts and bill their mobile payment system as they exit the store.

This live data will enable supermarkets to rely to a greater extent on “just-in-time” stock deliveries, minimizing the cost and space of keeping stock on site. Live data will also help suppliers make the packaging and transportation of foods more time-efficient. Supermarkets and specialized grocery stores will have the option of reducing on-site running costs by becoming smaller.

Another likelihood is that supermarkets will remain the same size but change in concept, becoming destinations for click and mortar shopping. Because retailers need to offer consumers a consistent omnichannel experience, stores will connect the physical and digital worlds. Here, consumers can see and feel products they might order online. Here, too, the online product offering could also be accessible via interactive screens.

These changes align with the forecast growth in consumer demand for healthier, high-quality produce, more choice, and greater convenience – a demand which will increase massively as household incomes rise in developing nations, bringing 70 million more people globally into the middle class ranks every year.

About TOMRA Food

Bjorn ThumasBjorn Thumas, director of business development food at TOMRA Food, has more than 17 years of experience in the optical food sorting and peeling equipment sector.TOMRA Food, a unit of Asker, Norway-headquartered TOMRA Systems ASA, designs and manufactures sensor-based sorting machines and integrated post-harvest solutions for the food industry, using highly advanced grading, sorting, peeling and analytical technology.

Over 8,000 units are installed at the sites of food growers, packers and processors around the world for fruits, vegetables, potato products, seafood, meats, nuts, grains and seed. The company operates centers of excellence, regional offices and manufacturing locations within Europe, the United States, South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia.

2018 Weather Impact on Crops in Europe Worst in 40 Years, Confirms PROFEL

PROFELAs the main vegetable campaigns come to an end, the European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors (PROFEL) is drawing attention to the adverse weather conditions over the past three years that have significantly impacted frozen and canned production throughout the EU. The Brussels, Belgium-based trade group says that 2018 has been the worst year in four decades for the vegetable processing sector, though the severity of harvest shortfall has varied by crop and region.

A very wet winter and spring, destructive storms and an extended heat wave with long drought have affected many production areas on the continent. However, the impact has been less severe in some locations of Southern Europe.

In general, several crops “have been affected with heterogeneous consequences, depending on the product and the production region,” reported PROFEL in an assessment issued on November 23. For example:

  • Peas. The campaign has been disastrous in Western, Northern and Central Europe, with yield losses of up to 25% depending on the agricultural region. The low yields were the result of wet conditions at sowing time, followed by warm temperatures with drought at harvest.
  • Sweetcorn. The long period of warm weather and drought reduced the growing period and negatively affected the quality of the crop, which ripened earlier than forecast. The average yield per hectare was well below the expected levels. In addition to quality problems, it has been confirmed that the harvested volumes are 20-25% less than expectation.
  • Green Beans. Production regions have experienced yield losses ranging from 15 to 50%.

The situation is also severe when it comes to other autumn vegetables. Yield reductions are confirmed for carrots, broccoli, beetroot, celery, celeriac, onions and courgette (zucchini), spinach, leek, and Brussels sprouts. For onions the losses in Europe are dramatic, ranging from 25% to 50%, depending on the country.

High temperatures and rainfall in October led to a simultaneous maturation of autumn harvested crops such as spinach and cauliflower.

For spinach, the scheduled sowing programs were compressed into a much shorter period. This resulted in a loss of product quality and a lower yield per hectare, which is estimated around 15%.

For cauliflower, the situation has been similar, where the harvest has been concentrated over three weeks instead of the planned five to six weeks, resulting in a reduction in yield per hectare estimated around 20%, and lower quality than expected.

Additionally, the harvest of red cabbage, white cabbage and kale has been close to dire this year. In some regions, white cabbage losses are up to 40%, with losses in red cabbage as much as 50%. Kale, with a harvested yield cut by half, has been significantly affected.


Infographic PROFEL new infogThe European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors represents over 500 companies in 11 European countries through national associations or direct company membership. Employing more than 80,000 people, combined turnover of PROFEL’s members generate combined sales of roughly €22 billion annually. Combined, they annual produce the following volumes during normal years: 3,300,000 tons of frozen vegetables; 2,100,000 tons of canned vegetables; 1,000,000 tons of canned deciduous fruits and compotes; 485,000 tons of fruit preserves and jams; 50,000 tons of dried vegetables.

Impressive Trade Figures

The processed fruit and vegetable business is worth approximately €47 billion, according to Eurostat. In general, the industry represents an average of 6% of the total food processing industry in Europe. External European exports of processed fruit and vegetables amount to about €6.2 billion. This figure is even greater when intra-EU trade is included, as processed fruit and vegetable trade flows are generally oriented to the internal market.

In 2017, the five leading export destinations outside the EU were the USA, Russia, China, Switzerland and South Africa. The most important markets in developing countries include Brazil, Russia, India and China, as well as Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Thailand.

Frozen Ready Meal Makers in Britain Cater to More Demanding Customer Base

Ready MealsFrozen prepared meals have long been popular with time strapped cooking novices, but what’s on the menu today in the United Kingdom is far removed from the ding dinners of previous decades. Indeed, demand for convenient, quality and healthy dishes has elevated the ready meals market to a whole new level.

Heidi ThompsonHeidi Thompson, managing director of Thyme Foods.“Consumers have been forced to look at options for convenience and health,” explained Heidi Thompson, managing director of UK Midlands-based Thyme Foods, which produces and delivers premium frozen ready meals directly to customers’ doors. “Savvy shoppers have had to look harder for convenient food.”

In the last decade ready meals have evolved beyond food that can simply be popped in the microwave to be nuked within a couple of minutes with average to poor results. The new generation of frozen meals has a greater focus on quality ingredients, nutrition, provenance and sustainability.

Sustainability is of increased importance today, and ready meals suppliers are investing in new ways to produce and package their products in a more environment-friendly way. Thyme Foods, for example, is striving to make its offerings more sustainable.

“As we deliver direct to the consumer we are very aware of the packaging we use and are always looking for ways to improve our carbon footprint,” said Thompson. “Our products are sent out in cardboard boxes with ice packs and a return label so we can reuse them where possible and recycle them if re-use isn’t appropriate.

“We just moved away from 60% of our plastic trays and replaced them with a paper-based product. With our smoothies we promote re-usable straws and recycling the plastic cups.”

Consumer Perception

The reputation of frozen ready meals has improved dramatically over the last 10 years, with many misconceptions being challenged by research highlighting the nutritional value of frozen food as well as its cost, quality and sustainability.

“The best way to cook is from fresh and scratch, which isn’t viable in this day and age, so frozen meals are providing an alternatives,” said Thompson. “We blast freeze our products at their peak, which maintains quality, flavor, texture and prevents nutritional deterioration.”

With nutritional benefits now a keen focus for consumers, the industry has taken note and is concentrating on communicating the nutritional benefits of frozen meals and freezing as a natural form of preservation.

Phil rimmer apetito head development chefPhil Rimmer, head development chef at Apetito UK.“With freezing, no additives are required to keep food as fresh as the day it was harvested,” pointed out Phil Rimmer, head development chef at Towbridge, Wiltshire-based Apetito UK, the British unit of Rheine, Germany-headquartered Apetito AG. “However, frozen foods are not only nutritious. They have both monetary and environmental benefits through the reduction of waste, as there is no need to use more than what is needed.”

Changing Tastes

Consumers’ tastes are changing all the time, especially as global cuisines are readily available and increasingly influencing food choices. Health and lifestyle trends have also had a huge impact on consumer tastes, leading to demand for more plant-based options.

“With a push towards cleaner labels and more ethical eating in recent years, we have seen a rise in demand for vegetarian and vegan options,” said Rimmer. “Whilst consumer tastes have become more open and adventurous, there is still a high demand for traditional meals.”

Thyme Foods Smoothie VarietiesThyme Foods promotes what are referred to as entry products, which are well known dishes such as cottage pie, to make consumers become more familiar with the brand and ultimately more adventurous with every order. Current offerings include fish pie, curry, burgers, steaks, chilli and smoothies.

“Smoothies are one of our most popular lines,” said Thompson. “Vegan products are also in higher demand, so we launched vegan dishes to support the range rather than as alternative to meat or fish, as a lot of customers buy across the range with meat and vegan options.”

According to Rimmer, the fact that people are living longer on average has impacted on the types of ready meals that are now in demand. This means increased demand for meals catering to special dietary requirements, including intolerances and allergies.

“We employ both a dietician and a nutritionist, who work closely with our chefs, to ensure all our meals are nutritious and meet the specific dietary needs of the consumer,” he said. “Our onsite Campden-accredited lab acts on a positive release system, allowing us to be confident in our production process. We have specialist equipment in our factories in the UK and Germany that allows us to produce an award-winning texture modified range of products for people living with dysphagia (difficulty to swallow food).”

Apetito’s product range includes energy-dense offerings for those needing more calories due to poor diet or unintentional weight loss, and healthier options for consumers who require a balanced diet. The company also works with suppliers to provide ethically appropriate foods that are kosher- and halal-certified.

apetito minced hot pot“Apetito is built on the values of creating healthy, nutritious, good food,” said Helen Willis, a dietician at the company. “We signed up for the Public Health Responsibility Deal around salt reduction, and although this is now defunct, we still adhere to it. We have also gone through an internal process called ‘Clean and Green,’ which has focused on reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat in products.”

Over the last few years there has been a sharp focus on flexible catering within hospitals, with many healthcare facilities introducing 24-hour feeding programs. As a result they have looked to caterers to design meals to give them the needed flexibility.

“The ease of cooking frozen prepared meals that provide consistent high quality, nutritionally balanced servings delivered a solution to this need,” said Rimmer.

“When designing meals for hospitals and care homes, the dining experience should never be overlooked, as it is the most important element is ensuring people want to eat them.”

The consumer demographic hungry for ready meals has changed dramatically over in the last decade, expanding well beyond initial prime targets of single people, students and the elderly. The shift in the customer base for these products has prompted manufacturers to reassess their ranges, with health, nutrition, provenance and value at the forefront of new product development. – Reported by Sarah Welsh

Authentic Recipes with Modern Flair Driving Indian Cuisine in UK Market

Although curry has been the unofficial national dish of the United Kingdom for some decades, according to Yawar Khan, chairman of the Asian Catering Federation (ACF) based in London, half of all Indian restaurants in Britain are expected to close over the next 10 years. However, the predicted closure of around 17,000 outlets isn’t a reflection of a change of heart regarding Indian food, but the failure of restaurateurs to respond to evolving consumer demands.

Spice of Life Onion Bhaji from Central Foods"For years we have been telling restaurants they need to up their game with shorter menus, offering lighter healthier options with more fish and vegetable dishes, with genuinely authentic regional food,” Khan told The Independent, a London-based newspaper with national circulation. “Many rarely see a customer at lunch time, while pubs and chains like Nandos are serving thousands of spicy dishes throughout the day.”

This apathy has left a huge opportunity for foodservice outlets to offer a range of Indian dishes which meet modern consumer demands, allowing them to cash in on the popular cuisine. Subsequently this has resulted in restaurants, retailers, wholesalers and suppliers becoming more proactive with new product development (NPD).

Brakes Indian platter contains vegetable pakora 15 onion bhaji vegetable samosa and aloo tikki“Whilst Indian food remains universally popular, more and more foodservice outlets are capitalizing on the boom in UK street food which demands innovative flavors, textures, colors and cooking techniques,” explained Megan Modha, category manager, grocery, at Brakes based in Ashford, Kent. “The majority of NPD we have seen coming through takes a traditional recipe as its base and is then tweaked to incorporate a modern twist.”


Today’s consumers are interested in provenance and authenticity, and the foodservice industry has taken note with suppliers offering an array of frozen Indian dishes to help caterers satiate the masses.

Street-style food’s popularity shows no sign of abating, but an evolution is afoot with predictions of more sophisticated, regional dishes in high demand. Simply serving bog standard Indian cuisine no will no longer suffice. Consumers want to know their dishes are inspired by the streets of Mumbai or the shores of Goa.

Indian Veg Snack Selection available from Central Foods“Indian food is very labor intensive to produce from scratch,” said Gordon Lauder, managing director of Northamptonshire, England-based frozen food distributor Central Foods. “The mix of ingredients is more complicated than those used in Western recipes. There is a minimum of seven ingredients and up to around 200 in total (from a worldwide ingredients list of around 381), more than is used in any other cuisine. There is a lot of marinating of ingredients to achieve just the right taste and aroma and the right mix of spices in the right quantity is key to achieving the perfect flavor.”

It can be notoriously difficult for caterers to replicate these authentic flavors and dedicate the time to creating them from scratch, which is why many turn to quality, pre-prepared frozen Indian products to meet consumer demand with ease.

Laila RemtullaOne company which prides itself on offering authentic, hand crafted Indian cuisine is Blackpool-based Laila’s Fine Foods. Its products are still produced in the way founder and director Laila Remtulla made them in her kitchen over 30 years ago.

“All our products are cooked in a way unlike any other manufacturer,” she explained. “We do not manufacture using large scale production methods but a smaller scale, hands-on approach, similar to how you would cook at home. The fact that all dishes are stirred and packed by hand enables us to maintain a true ‘homemade’ taste in all our products.”


Sharing plates have been popular with consumers for some time and Indian food is ideal for this style of sociable eating. It also enables caterers to allow consumers to try a variety of new bite-sized morsels.

“Indian food lends itself very well to the rising demand for street food-style menu items, and this has paved the way for imaginative new uses for some of the traditional ingredients of Indian food, such as naans,” said Lauder. “Where once naans were just side-of-the-plate accompaniments, now they are used in all sorts of ways and at meal occasions throughout the day – from breakfast (served folded and filled with bacon, egg and chili jam) to topped with blue Stilton and truffle oil for lunch and even marshmallows, chocolate and cream for dessert.”

With increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances, as well as more of a focus on health, the popularity of free from dishes is rising.

“The free from side has really increased, so there is more demand from caterers for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free meals to make up their menu,” said Remtulla. “As consumers are becoming more aware of what they put in their body and using food as a dietary supplement, and there is now a market for higher protein meals. We now have 30 grams of protein included in the chicken stag balti to accommodate this need.”

She continued: “We understand the need to follow food trends and continuously evolve our product range to meet the demands of the market. Luckily we have a very talented and experienced NPD team and are able to work closely with both retail and foodservice partners to spot trends and develop quality products.”

With today’s consumers having more discerning pallets it’s essential to offer premium quality dishes. As with other frozen food items there has been a shift towards premium Indian options made with high quality ingredients and increased percentages of proteins.

Lailas Chicken korma and chicken jalfrezi“We have noticed that the market growth in frozen meals is being driven by premium products,” said Remtulla. “Consumers also understand that it is worth paying the extra money for a deluxe product that represents good value for money, as there is often a marked increase in the quality of both the product and the ingredients.”

Despite the charm of a classic curry still tempting many, consumer tastes have evolved driving innovation towards truly authentic, regional dishes. The kormas of the world will still have their place, but any business wanting to take a share of this lucrative cuisine needs to move with the times to reap the rewards. – Reported by Sarah Welsh