Why you should invest in a centralized kitchen

Sprouts executives recently told analysts that deli was the fastest-growing category in 2022, and that the company was becoming more efficient in its deli strategy. After testing a prototype with a larger space dedic (5).pngFirst started in 1970, the Pennsylvania-based Redner’s Markets is an employee-owned supermarket chain with 5,000-plus employees. In 2021, the company launched a prepared foods centralized kitchen, which third-generation owner Gary M. Redner said has made a huge difference in terms of consistency and sales.   

“It definitely generated a lot of additional sales and we were really able to cater to the guest, especially through COVID,” said Redner, who is also the company’s chief operating officer. “People were not eating out as much, and this gave them a safe, clean, and affordable meal that was high quality. So we’re pretty proud of that. And we continue to grow that portfolio now.”

Longtime hotel chef Chef Tim Twiford runs the centralized kitchen, turning out prepared foods like meatloaf and mashed potatoes (Redner’s most popular dish), fried chicken, chicken wings, and a new take and bake pizza program.

The next big opportunity for Redner’s? Moving the company’s prepared foods online. The company’s curbside program, Redner’s Ready, launched in 2022 — now Redner says the company will experiment with adding online catering ordering options in select stores. 

SN Editor Chloe Riley spoke with Gary M. Redner about Redner’s prepared foods strategy, as well as their success with having a centralized kitchen.

Chloe Riley: Tell me about Redner’s and the company’s values before we dive into the foodservice strategy.

Gary M. Redner: We were formed in 1970 by my grandfather Earl and my grandmother, Mary Redner, I’m part of the third generation. And I’ll start off with our mission statement, which is to create rewarding experiences by being a great place to shop and work and some of our brand promises, as we call them, exceptional service, quality fresh food, fair prices, and an active community partner.

CR: Now let’s talk foodservice at retail.

GR: We have a central kitchen, and at that kitchen we’re producing products for our entire chain. We self distribute, so on perishable products, we have our warehouses. And so we’re basically producing the product there, packaging it, and then shipping it out to the stores. And so we have a lot of freshly made meals that are shipped out weekly from that facility, and they vary. We have a lot of proteins and starches, and then we have seafood items, we have pasta dishes. It kind of varies. For us, it’s definitely generated a lot of additional sales and we’re really able to cater to the guest, especially through COVID.

People were not eating out as much, and this gave them a safe, clean, and affordable meal that was a high quality meal. We’re pretty proud of that. And we continue to grow that portfolio now as we’re coming out [of the pandemic.] And because there’s still opportunities, the guest… I think the guest in general recognizes that food at home is definitely a cheaper way of eating as opposed to eating out. That’s not knocking restaurants, it’s just additional building costs there. But families don’t have time to prepare meals. And so this is, again, a lower cost alternative that is providing the same kind of quality.

CR: Were you guys seeing just a lot of consumer demand obviously then for prepared foods during the pandemic? Or was there a spike there, and has that spike been sustained or has it dropped down a little? 

GR: For us, it’s been sustained. And I think mainly because we’ve been kind of infusing new items and new categories. We just launched a pizza program as an example, so we didn’t have that before. So now that’s just adding to our portfolio of items, and then they’ll take some of the lower hanging fruit SKUs and they’ll discontinue those just so that we keep it fresh for the guests and we keep adding variety.

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Chef Tim Twiford with some of Redner’s prepared meals.

CR: What are your biggest successes in prepared foods?

GR: Well, maybe you would or wouldn’t believe this, but our number one item is actually meatloaf.

CR: I do believe it. I do believe it.

GR: Yeah, meatloaf and mashed potatoes is actually our number one SKU. And then our wing programs are really good ones. We do four varieties of boneless wings and then four varieties of bone-in wings. That has been a really successful one for us. And I would say on the protein side, we have chicken dishes, we have pork dishes, we have smoked products, we do smoked wings, we do smoked ribs. That’s another big item that we have success with. And that’s kind of some of the variety. Plus our chili is…our chef has won a number of awards locally in different contests for his chili. So that’s definitely a staple item that does really well all year round for us.

CR: And any tech that’s been supporting your efforts? Any online ordering or online catering?

GR: So in regards to prepared foods, we’re literally just starting to add those items and make them available online. We have a curbside program called Redner Ready, and that just finished releasing or launching mid of last year. So I don’t have data to say that it’s been successful, I’m just, because we’re literally just starting to add them now. It’ll give the guests more options that they didn’t have before. So I think that’s a good thing, obviously. And then of course we have partnerships with DoorDash, Shipped, and then we’re actually launching Instacart next month.

And in select stores, we’re testing catering, it’s in its infancy stage. So I wouldn’t say that we’re doing it everywhere, but we’re testing the catering piece in select stores. 

CR: And then in terms of ROI on everything, I know you’re saying it’s generated a lot of additional sales, but how are you measuring that? 

GR: It’s returning tenfold. And what I mean by that is — all of those things I mentioned earlier, about inconsistencies and about how our industry struggles to get help, specifically since COVID. So the central kitchen has literally taken that pressure off because all they’re doing is placing an order and packing it out, and the kitchen takes away all of that because we’ve invested in the correct packaging equipment that provides us better shelf life. We are using the right equipment that is going to produce a high quality finished product. And because we’re doing it in-mass there, we’re taking it and making it much more efficient. So it’s really all-encompassing, the return on that is real.

CR: So you’re saying it’s about this shift to having the centralized kitchen. It’s not relying on individual teams at stores to come up with something on site. It’s streamlined, and it’s efficient, and it’s consistent, and it’s all happening in one central location. And then it sounds like you guys have been able to have pretty consistent staffing for that central kitchen then too.

GR: Yes, because the culture within there is paramount. So Chef Tim [Twiford] who oversees that facility, he’s our director of prepared foods, and the culture he creates within that — we don’t have a lot of turnover in there. So it’s a good thing and it allows for consistency as a result of that.

CR: In terms of your strategy, looking ahead, it sounds like you’ve got so much great information. You’re launching the pizza program. Anything else that you’re seeing arrows pointing the way, anything else that you guys kind of have on your radar in terms of where you see an opportunity with your prepared foods?

GR: We just launched that take and bake program, and I think the only additions that we’d be looking to do are more barbecue type items going into the summer, which we didn’t have a big variety of last year, mainly because of product shortages. It wasn’t really help shortage, it was product shortages. So I think that’s going to be our focus is having more smoked products available going into the summer.

This feature is part of our 2023 “SN Foodservice at Retail Innovators” list: see more innovators here.