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People love good food. Yet busy schedules leave little time to cook
up delicious, healthy meals. But now people can have their cake and eat it,
too. Chefs are popping up in supermarkets everywhere, dishing out take-home
gourmet meals for the discriminating food lover.
"Food is very 'in' right now," says Jessica Hersh. She is a private chef
and caterer. "And people love to see a chef in a white coat.
"An in-house chef can offer a supermarket a little more cachet than simply
having meals ready to go. There are some stores that are moving toward cooking
lessons held in the store during busy hours so customers can learn a little
food lore while shopping."
This trend toward tastier, more convenient food is creating new employment
opportunities for chefs. For the most part, the supermarket has been undiscovered
territory. But years ago, a few pioneering stores decided try out some pilot
programs. And the results were very promising.
Laird Livingston is the director of education for the American Culinary
Federation (ACF). Years ago, he was a consultant for one of the oldest supermarket
chains in America. There, he witnessed the in-store chef program.
"The programs were developed to help market and sell meat, seafood and
produce," says Livingston. "The chefs would develop recipes utilizing certain
products, which would be advertised on sale. The programs became so successful
that some stores actually set up restaurants and catering facilities.
"With two family incomes, the busy life schedules of working parents and
the emergence of fast food restaurants, the popularity of microwaves and takeout
food helped the sale of in-store signature dishes prepared by the chefs,"
These programs became so successful that grocery companies began hiring
corporate chefs and consultants to develop these marketing programs regionally.
They even hired celebrity chefs to implement signature dishes.
Walter Neuhold is the founder of the Professional Chefs Association. He
acknowledges that as far as supermarkets are concerned, the point is to get
a larger piece of the takeout market.
"Some stores offer high-quality meals prepared by known guest chefs, consulting
chefs and also some food sections employ [chefs]," Neuhold adds.
The success is fueled by consumers who want quality products and are willing
to pay the right price as long as they get their money's worth. "The average
family eats out four times a week. And the trends for takeout prepared foods
are continuing to grow," says Livingston.
"If you travel to Boston, you can see some beautiful stores that only hire
chefs and pastry chefs to prepare foods in their bakeries, delis and cafes."
Hersh points out that more busy families understand the importance of eating
meals together. "For most of these people, restaurant dining is either cost-prohibitive
or just undesirable. So take-away meals from the grocery stores are very important."
Ned Abbott is the human resources coordinator for another supermarket that
has experienced significant success with its in-store chefs. "Given the trends
in the industry, I feel there will be a spike in demand for trained culinary
experts industry wide," he says.
"Given the increase in quality levels demanded by our customers and less
disposable free time, high-quality balanced meals are increasingly popular.
We find that customers see the value in these offerings. We have had tremendous
success with this concept....Currently, we employ 20 chefs," says Abbott.
Don Rooke is a certified chef who frequently did recipe demonstrations
in supermarkets. His experience in this industry gave him some insight into
the new opportunities for chefs in supermarkets. "It is very wonderful for
a customer to come into a grocery store and have a chef there who can demonstrate
and explain any product or dish they might use in the future," he says.
"When I demonstrate or show a recipe in a grocery store, everyone stops
to see and taste," says Rooke. He adds that people would take the recipe and
fill their basket with all the necessary ingredients. They'd even come back
to discuss the cooking process.
"Without a proper chef, that couldn't be done," Rooke says.
Chefs, cooks and other food preparation workers held over two million jobs
in 2004, according to the Occupational Employment Statistics.
Employment in U.S. grocery stores is expected to rise about six percent
by 2008, says the Career Guide to Industries.
Many supermarkets prefer restaurant, catering, or hotel experience or a
culinary degree. Supervisory experience is especially helpful. That's because
supermarket chefs manage staff and deal with hungry people.
Abbott adds that most of the chefs at his stores have culinary training.
"As long as the economy stays as it is, I think all stores will be offering,
at the very least, ready-made meals, and more of them will offer custom meals,"
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