Consumers Gravitating Toward Casual, Food-Centric Gatherings

Small home-based social events spur food discovery, popularity of grazable fare
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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According a survey from Rich's, food served at small, casual at-home gatherings has not only become a catalyst for discovery, but also an enticement for attendance and a conversation starter.

Food company Rich Products Corp., also known as Rich’s, recently released its 2023 shopper insight study that found small food-centric gatherings with grazable options are continuing to rise in popularity among consumers, with 79% of those surveyed saying that they often try new and interesting foods during these times. Further, the trend toward small home-based social gatherings has persisted post-pandemic, with more than 58% preferring more intimate gatherings over large events.

While the move to casual gatherings predates the COVID-19 pandemic, this tendency has accelerated and evolved from larger special social occasions where food is present to small entertainment-focused gatherings centered on TV shows, sports games and game nights, where food is a social catalyst. According to Rich’s survey, food served at these events has not only become a catalyst for discovery, but also an enticement for attendance and a conversation starter.

[Read more: “5 Holiday Trends to Watch”]

“Over time, home entertaining has shifted away from formal dinner parties to more casual social events with smaller, bite-sized food options, which not only impacts food and beverage buying behaviors, but also manifests in how and where people gather at home,” noted Amanda Buonopane, senior manager of strategic insights at Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich’s. “For example, we’re seeing the ‘disappearing dining room’ trend among the younger generation. They prefer open floor plans with more flexibility for guests to grab a snack while socializing around the kitchen island.” 

Additional findings from the study include the following:

  • Shrinking Celebrations: Rich’s consumer tracking from September 2023 showed that just 38% of respondents participated in gatherings of more than 10 people throughout the summer, despite its being a popular season for special occasions like birthdays, graduations and more. This behavioral shift will affect the holiday season as well. The Cleveland Research Co. found that consumers plan to increase spending on at-home entertainment this year, with spending averaging $900, up from $800 in 2022. Similarly, Rich’s research of 2022 consumer behaviors around the holidays found that 40% of those surveyed prefer to spend more time staying in at that time.

  • Shifting Reasons for Gathering: Consumers most often get together for no reason at all. At least 61% of consumers whom Rich’s surveyed cited casual get-togethers with friends as the most common events they attend (about twice a month or more), with 58% observing that they take part most frequently in such laid-back gatherings as barbecues, pool parties and picnics. On the other hand, major milestone celebrations are falling in popularity: Rich’s study found that 82% of respondents attend birthday or anniversary gatherings only once a month or less, with 44% admitting that they rarely attend any major celebrations throughout the year.

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