People in the food business call it “share of stomach”—how competitive they are in capturing a percentage of the consumer’s stomach and therefore, the dollars spent on food. Retailers have been steadily losing stomach share as the American culture has changed and the dining room lights have dimmed.

The challenge, says Chris Scott, is to turn dining room lights back on.

If the present trend continues, the future for grocery stores is bleak, says Scott, meals manager for Winn-Dixie. “Looking back to 1970, people went to the grocery store, bought what they needed, went home and cooked,” he told members of the NCBA Live Cattle Marketing Committee during the Cattle Industry Summer Conference last week in Denver.

At that time, people went to restaurants, but it was more for special occasions than day-to-day dining. Mass merchants like Sam’s Club didn’t exist. Grocery stores owned the consumer’s stomach.

Fast forward to 2010. “Grocery is a third of that pie. Mass merchants are a third of that pie. The thing that scares me the most? Away from home. People aren’t cooking at home. They’re going out. And we’re losing touch with each other as a society.”

As a meals manager, Scott’s challenge is to turn those lights back on. “I was challenged to figure out a way to merchandise a complete meal solution at a value—not a price point, not a discount, but a value. And that value is convenience and simplicity and understanding that if I go to this area (of the store) and see the sign, everything I need to make a meal is there.”

His challenge was to integrate the center of the store, where the package goods live, with the outside of the store where the fresh products are. “The best way we sell more products is with proteins. And the number one protein people buy? Beef,” he says.

Historically, retailers have used beef as a loss leader, featuring it at an attractive price to bring people into the store. But Scott didn’t want to discount the products. “Where did we start? We started with our butchers. We’re the beef people at Winn-Dixie, the neighborhood butcher.”

By arming their butchers with information and training, they made the people who work the meat case into store ambassadors. “They built clients, not just customers—they built clients and friends. And it’s made a huge difference in our business,” he says.

Then he incorporated advertising, in-store merchandising and signage to attract consumers. And it’s working. Sales for Winn-Dixie’s “What’s for dinner?” campaign have been up significantly since it started. And total store sales have taken a bounce as well. The person who shops the “What’s for dinner?” case has a basket four times larger than the typical customer, Scott says.

Scott lives in Jacksonville, FL, not a place where conventional wisdom would suggest that selling stew and chuck roasts in the summer is a good idea. But he did, and he did so successfully, by providing cooking instructions, recipes, all the ingredients to make the meal, and the slow cooker to cook it in. For Valentine’s Day, they featured the traditional meal of ribeye steak and lobster. But Scott added a QR code to the recipe card, which took shoppers to a five-minute video where a Winn-Dixie chef showed how to prepare the meal.

Using salmon as an example, he told how catering to consumers’ needs helps sales. “We couldn’t sell salmon very well because we were taking whole sides of salmon and putting it in the case,” he says. “So the customer walks up to the case, everything else around is great, but the salmon is $24. He or she has to take it home, cut it up, figure out what to do with the skin.”

So they went to portions, four individual pieces per pack. “We had the best sales week for salmon that week,” he says. “How can we do that with steak? How can we do that with ribs?”

If there’s a way, Scott will find it. “Convenience and shopping ease,” he says, are the keys. “That’s how we sell more beef, that’s how we make more money. All of us, together.”