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What Lies Beneath the Surface of 'Homemade' Meals?


Buoyed by the promise that homemade meals tend to be healthier and more budget-friendly than restaurant fare, it's hardly news that today's consumers are increasingly turning to grocers for help with dinnertime decisions in terms of ease of preparation, cooking and clean up. But as the likes of semi-homemade cooking guru Sandra Lee routinely reminds us, "eating at home" and "cooking from scratch" are decidedly not mutually dependent.

To be sure, the broad definition of "home-cooked" is highly elastic, with ready-to-eat, ready-to-heat and ready-to-cook all being widely accepted options for a home-prepared meal. But when considering that "dinner destination" supermarkets typically drive the selection of shopping venues for the majority of consumers – and in turn, provide a gateway for retailers to become a shoppers’ top choice for their other mealtime purchases – it’s a must-win opportunity for both sides of the buyer/seller continuum.

With this in mind, The NPD Group is serving up some fresh research on the definition of a home-cooked meal, the answer to which varies somewhat based on age groups. When asked to define what home-cooked meals means, four themes emerged from consumers polled in NPD's "What is Homemade?" study:

  • Made from scratch
  • Made at home
  • Made from fresh or raw ingredients
  • Made personally

When asked to decide whether specific dishes are home-cooked, consumers decisively concluded that some dishes are home-cooked, such as those made from scratch or which require a lot of effort, and others are not, such as those which are “doctored” from a frozen or ready-to-cook meal kit. Interestingly, other criteria are not quite as clear, such as the time required to prepare a meal, and the amount of ingredients included in a "home-cooked" dish.

A closer look at consumer segments in NPD's "Homemade" study finds young adults between the ages of 25 to 34, and older age groups, thinking alike when it comes to cooking at home. Specifically, both of the aforementioned age groups want some level of involvement in cooking and preparing the food they eat, although the 25 to 34 age group began cooking at home at an earlier age than the older age groups did.

Not surprisingly, the youngest adult consumers, ages 18 to 24, differ most in their behaviors and attitudes of home-cooking because they are least likely to cook at home.

Accordingly, Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at NPD, says: “Consumers’ desire for home-cooked meals and increasing fresh food usage by younger generations signals opportunities for food manufacturers to be trusted partners in the kitchen." Beyond addressing shoppers' needs for finished or partially-finished meal offerings, manufacturers would be wise to "help consumers expand their repertoire of home-cooked meals that use fresh ingredients by bringing new flavors and experiences to the forefront.”

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