Convenience Drives Shifts in Eating Habits

Although Americans are still eating many of the same foods they did three decades ago, the “how” and “who” of preparing the food has undergone pronounced changes, according to the latest National Eating Trend report from market researcher The NPD Group.

“The fast and hectic pace of the lives we lead has had the single greatest impact on this country’s eating behaviors,” notes Mark East, president of NPD’s Chicago-based North American food and beverage unit, whose recently released annual eating trends study marks the 30th year the diversified research firm has tracked America’s eating behaviors.

When comparing this year’s findings with those from when NPD first began tracking America’s eating behaviors three decades ago, 72 percent of main dinner meals were homemade vs. today’s 59 percent of home-cooked meals, many of which now incorporate kitchen-ready and frozen ingredients for assembling, rather than preparing meals, from raw ingredients – a highly popular practice for which I can fully relate.

Not surprisingly, sandwiches still reign supreme among the top foods consumed by busy American consumers, with one big difference: the sandwich of 30-years ago was prepared by someone in the household, while today’s version is more likely to be ready-to-eat, frozen, or prepared by a third-party sandwich maker (i.e., restaurants, supermarkets or other numerous foodservice outlets).

“Americans have an ever increasing need for convenience when it comes to eating,” says East, pointing to other time-saving behavioral shifts detected in NPD’s 2010 National Eating Trends report, including:

• The average number of food items used per meal decreased from 4.44 in the 1980s to 3.5 in 2010

• Year-round grilling, microwave ovens, and slow cookers are lauded as the heroes for helping to make meal preparation easier and more convenient.

• The percent of meals cooked by a microwave has doubled since the 1980s.

• Households using a slow cooker at least once in a two-week period jumped 67 percent from the 1980s to 2010.

• Over one-third of American households use the grill to make a meal at least once in a two-week period.

Just as it has done over the last three decades, the need for convenience in meal preparation will continue to grow over the next decade, according to NPD’s A Look into the Future of Eating report, which provides a 10-year forecast of eating trends based on generational influences, population, and trend momentum gathered from National Eating Trends. According to the NPD study, over the next decade, stove tops and microwaves will remain the most frequently used appliances for meal preparation, but usage of slow cookers is forecasted to increase by 16 percent and grilling is expected to grow by 11 percent.

Convenience Appliance Usage
Percentage Growth in Usage

  1998-2008 2008-2018
Grilling +42 +11
Slow Cookers +36 +16

Source: National Eating Trends® and A Look into the Future of Eating

“Saving time motivated many of the trends we’ve captured in National Eating Trends over the past thirty years,” says East. “As our lives get busier and busier, saving time will continue to be an increasingly important factor in deciding what, when, where, and how we eat.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds