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A Shift in Habits: Americans Are Choosing to Eat at Home

With restaurant industry sales rising to over $7 billion in the United States, who would have thought that Americans actually prefer eating at home? That’s what a new report, “The Evolution of Eating,” by national CPG brokerage firm Acosta Sales and Marketing is saying. The study took a look at the changes in American eating habits over the past several decades and found that diners today, regardless of generation, are preferring to stay in and eat.

New food and beverage entrepreneurs looking to make use of this new finding need to keep in mind three things: 1) that the reasons for eating at home vary across generations and those reasons need to be understood before taking valid action; 2) that health and wellness are still major factors in the meal decisions that individuals make; 3) that although shoppers are eating more frequently at home, they are not necessarily preferring to cook from scratch. Instead there has been a rise in new meal preparation options like semi-homemade meals, which incorporate ready-to-eat food items from the supermarket or restaurants with homemade ones that shoppers prepare at home.

In addition, Accosta looked at several other factors affecting American eating habits including the changing family profile – now smaller and more diverse; variations in work and lifestyle routines, leading to less time eating and more time snacking; as well as an evolving palate for new and worldly flavors.

Here are some facts from the report:

  • Nine out of 10 shoppers surveyed said they preferred eating at home. Of those surveyed, 61 percent cited comfort, 60 percent cited cost and 59 percent cited convenience as their reasons.
  • U.S. diners prepared meals at home 46 percent of the time over the past year.
  • Millennials have a much higher rate of eating prepared foods from grocery stores than total U.S. diners (27 percent vs. 16 percent)
  • Millennials reported enjoying cooking the most while older generations do it more as a responsibility.
  • Millennials and Generation X eat much more frequently, at least 5 meals a day, compared to older generations.
  • Sixty-one percent of shoppers ranked reading food labels as very important to their health.
  • Over 50 percent of shoppers reported trying to eat more fruits and vegetables last year.
  • In the 1970s, 40.3 percent of households contained married couples with kids. In the 2000s, that number dropped to 19.6 percent.
  • Twenty-nine percent of Generation X and 26 percent of millennials eat at least two to three snacks a day.
  • 35 percent of diners having tried food trucks, 38 percent have had basmati rice and 32 percent have tried gluten-free foods.

The following are Accosta’s recommendations to retailers and CPG companies for staying current with consumers as their eating preferences evolve:

1. Connect with the Modern Family
Today’s American families are increasingly smaller, led by a single parent, and multicultural. They want smaller portioned meals and desire variety and affordability as factors when making meal decisions.

2. Be Fresh and Healthy
Consumer studies across the board still point to a desire for healthier eating choices. Consumers are drawn to the perimeter of the supermarket, so CPG companies need to find ways to link center-store products to the perimeter. CPG companies should also try to improve nutritional value on their products while educating the consumer on it.

3. Stay Quick and Easy
With the on-the-go lifestyles of today’s consumers, they desire convenience and simplicity with their food.

4. Focus on Snacks
Shoppers are snacking more, and they desire both healthy and good tasting snacking options. CPG companies need to educate consumers on nutritional value and how their snacks fit into the consumers’ lifestyles.

5. Keep Things Interesting
The way to engage shoppers, especially the younger millennial generation, is still to keep foods and flavors new and exciting. Shoppers are looking for an “experience” with their food and desire contact with brands through in-store demos and apps with cooking videos featuring their product.

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