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As consumer habits change, Strack & Van Til has been expanding its selection of "meal solutions" that can be taken home and quickly heated or thrown into a crock pot.

The Highland-based chain, which has 20 locations across the Region, has recently added house-made slow-cooker packs; protein packs with yogurt, hummus and cheese; and take-and-bake Chicago-style pan pizzas as it adapts to more harried shoppers and today's busier lifestyles. The locally-owned supermarket has been significantly offering more pre-made meals, such as take-and-bake entrees and trays including stuffed chicken cordon bleu, Sicilian pork chops and Greek pinwheel flank steak.

Last year, Strack & Van Til rolled out steamable bags that microwave fish meals in a few minutes and it has since expanded that line to include chicken and pork options.

That's on top of the hot food bars, wing bars, sushi bars and salad bars the 60-year-old grocery added during a round of renovations to freshen up its stores a few years ago.

“When it comes to feeding families, as well as individuals, Strack & Van Til is always looking for ways to make our customers’ lives easier,” Strack & Van Til Chief Marketing & Merchandising Officer Michael Tyson said.

Strack & Van Til has been keeping up with an industry-wide trend at a time when people have been spending more on dining out than on groceries for the first time in the United States, and meal kits like Blue Apron promise to take the stress out of cooking by delivering all the ingredients for a meal to the door. Competitors like Whole Foods Schererville boast salad bars from which customers can bring home a pre-cooked meal of varied meats, starches and vegetables.

"Grocers have muscled in with an increasingly sophisticated array of prepared foods," according to the trade publication Grocery Dive. "As competition for food dollars heats up, retailers are finding that it pays to have more than just the usual spread of sandwiches, salads and soups."

The trade publication said it's an area where local independent grocers may have more of an advantage over the often cheaper national chains because they tend to be better attuned to the tastes of local customers.

Strack & Van Til has boosted its line of bakeable meals, which includes everything from a single serving of rib tips to a tray of stuffed bell peppers. It's rolled out five-pound slow-cooker packs with enough food for four to six people. The meat is pre-sliced to eliminate prep work and items like carrots and potatoes are included in the package so people don't need to roam around the supermarket in search of ingredients.

“Place all the ingredients into your Crock-Pot in the morning, add water, stir and let your dinner make itself,” Strack & Van Til Meat Department Director Gary Teachman said.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.