- Kroger-owned Mariano's will open 28 Pork & Mindy's barbecue "mini restaurants," inside Chicago-area Mariano’s stores this year, according to the Chicago Tribune. Pork and Mindy's is owned by Food Network celebrity chef Jeff Mauro.
- Each Pork & Mindy's will be about 200 square feet and will offer signature dishes such as "tottys" and "sangwiches," as well as grab-and-go items. Mariano’s has 44 locations in the Chicago area and already offers eateries including sushi bars, wood-fired pizza and gelato at many of its locations.
- Meanwhile, Ohio-based Rapid Fired Pizza announced a new partnership with Kroger to bring the fast, fresh pizza chain to select Kroger Marketplaces throughout Ohio. The chain will sell build-your-own pizza, pastas and calzones, and will also offer take-and-bake pizzas at Kroger.
Partnering with new or popular restaurants is catching on with retailers as they explore ways to keep consumers excited and engaged. Millennials are a big driver of the grocerant expansion, especially because more than half of them eat out once a week, according to data from Morgan Stanley, compared to only 43% of prior generations.
Several grocery companies have entered the grocerant space to align with food trends and stand out from competitors. Whole Foods has a partnership with vegan chain Next Level Burger that now includes several locations across the U.S. In addition to its popular Market Grille concept, which is at 115 stores, Hy-Vee is now opening Wahlburgers burger chains throughout the Midwest with plans for 26 locations. In Idaho, Albertsons's flagship store in Boise features an upscale bar including cocktails, local beers on tap and a wide selection of wine.
Although big-name retailers like Kroger have the resources to develop their own in-house restaurant concepts, tapping into an established restaurant brand or an up-and-coming eatery can generate more attention and take some of the risk out of developing a concept from scratch. Kroger has already turned to this model before with regional restaurants Eli’s Barbecue and Mazunte Taqueria, which currently operate at some Kroger stores in Ohio.
The partnership between Mariano's and Pork & Mindy's is a major expansion for the barbecue joint, which currently operates just six locations in Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis. Its celebrity brand and creative twist on barbecue is something new for Mariano's, and gives the banner an opportunity to lure new shoppers who want to experience the restaurant's fun, punchy dishes.
Ohio's Rapid Fired Pizza is known for creating pizzas in less than 180 seconds with any of its 35 toppings and 12 sauces. The pizza chain has 27 locations in six states (including Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, California and Texas) prior to its expansion with Kroger. Its proven popularity should be a quick success, especially with the convenient take-and-bake option added for Kroger customers.
The grocerant model is a strategic way to attract hungry, time-crunched consumers who can have a bite to eat and complete their grocery shopping in one place. The prepared store meals category has grown 30% in sales over the last ten years, driving $10 billion in sales for 2018 according to the NPD group.