The former president of Trader Joe's reveals how the most popular grocery store items have changed

Wegmans storeJacquelyn Martin/Associated PressPrepared foods are gaining popularity.

Grocery shopping has changed dramatically in the last several decades.

The biggest change of all, according to 40-year industry veteran Doug Rauch, is what people are buying.

“When I got into the grocery industry, the top-selling items were 5-pound bags of flour, mayonnaise and other ingredients for cooking,” Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, told Business Insider. “Now, no one has the time to cook.”

Prepared foods — like rotisserie chicken, slow-smoked barbecue, grilled salmon, and other prepackaged meals — have taken the place of basic cooking ingredients.

“It’s a fundamental change in the business,” said Rauch. “Now almost every grocer has fresh offerings.”

Grocers like Whole Foods and Wegmans have been at the forefront of the prepared foods trend, devoting a huge amount of space in their stores to salad bars, hot food buffets, pizza and sushi stations, and more.

When people do take the time to cook, they are mostly engaging in what the industry calls “speed-scratch cooking,” Rauch said.

That means they make meals out of ready-made products and mix them with a few fresh ingredients.

Rauch has spent four decades in the grocery business, including 31 years at the popular private label chain Trader Joe’s. During 14 of those years, he was president of the company.

Before he joined Trader Joe’s in 1977, Rauch worked for the natural foods company Erewhon.

Now, Rauch is opening a new kind of grocery store called Daily Table, which sells deeply discounted food that other stores are planning to throw out. He’s hoping to expand the store, which is meant to serve lower-income neighbourhoods, into a nationwide chain.

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