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AMI Panelist: Americans Willing to Experiment but Slow to Change

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Don't mistake U.S. consumers' willingness to try something new as a trend, because Americans are slow to make lasting change, said Harry Balzer, v.p. of NPD Group, during a keynote address to attendees of last week's American Meat Institute's 2004 Annual Convention & Innovation Showcase, held here.

Balzer, whose firm tracks actual consumption patterns using a panel of 5,000 consumers who keep food diaries, cautioned attendees not to base their notions about consumer consumption on news reports or opinion data, because they often are quite different from actual behavior.

The top trends, according to Balzer, include:
- Low carb as "the thing."

- People want to lose weight through eating, not by exercising.

- Healthy foods are "in" and take priority over convenience.

- The percentage of women who work is declining slightly, which impacts how and when we eat.

- Fresh foods are the new "battleground."

The top 10 lunch and dinner entrees consumed by Americans have remained relatively unchanged during the past several decades, Balzer said, noting that the top entree item is a sandwich, followed by chicken, beef, Italian food, homemade variety dish, pork/ham, pizza, frozen dinners, seafood, and soup.

While the audience guessed that the top entrees ordered in restaurants by men vs. women would be quite different, Balzer showed that they're actually almost identical. In descending order, men typically order burgers, fries, and pizza, while women order fries, burgers, and pizza.

On-premise dining has declined in America, according to Balzer, who added nearly 20 percent of restaurant meals are purchased "through the car window" at a drive-through. Hamburgers are a perennial favorite and comprise 23.3 percent of all lunch orders in restaurants and 15.2 percent of all dinner orders, Balzer said.

While more Americans are overweight today, they have changed the way they view beauty, he added. In 1985 55 percent of Americans believed that people who are not overweight are more attractive; by 2003, that figure had dropped to 24.5 percent. "The easiest thing to do is to change your attitude," Balzer said.
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