As the coronavirus pandemic presses on, consumers have settled into routines that involve a lot more home cooking, and studies suggest these habits will continue after the pandemic. This shift is driving a change in shopping lists as well. Food retailers and manufacturers can cater to consumers’ needs with options that make home cooking simpler, faster and healthier — and bring some much-needed variety to the menu.
Home cooking is the new normal
Several factors are contributing to the continued prevalence of home cooking. Many people feel unsafe going to restaurants, but the decline in dine-in traffic isn’t the only reason people are turning on their stoves and ovens more often. Consumers who are working from home no longer stop for breakfast or coffee on their commute, nor do they frequent the lunch spots around their offices. For many, financial concerns are also a catalyst for more home-cooked meals, which come at a lower cost and often create leftovers that can be stretched much further than restaurant meals.
More than half of shoppers (55%) said they are eating at home more often since the pandemic began, according to an Acosta report released earlier this month.
The survey found that even after the pandemic is over, many consumers anticipate they will dine out less than before or not at all.
An earlier study by Bloomberg News and Morning Consult gleaned similar results, with almost a third of those surveyed saying they plan to cook at home even more once stay at home orders are lifted. Just 7% said they plan to cook less after the economy fully reopens.
The survey of 2,200 US consumers found that the intention to keep up with home cooking is especially strong among younger demographics. When asked about their post-pandemic plans, a full 43% of Gen Z respondents said they intend to cook at home more after the pandemic is over.
As a result of people logging more hours in the kitchen, grocery retailers are seeing shopping habits shift to accommodate different types of cooking.
“People are moving on to more complex cooking, and we don’t see that going away,” Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen told The New York Times. The supermarket chain reported a 30% spike in sales at the beginning of the pandemic.
The rise of more involved cooking projects suggests that consumers are feeling more confident about their ability in the kitchen. In fact, about 58% of SmartBrief subscribers said they think their cooking skills have improved during the pandemic, according to a recent reader poll in The Friday Feed.
However, just because people may be feeling more skilled, it doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for ways to spend less time and energy on cooking.
Hungry for shortcuts, more meal ideas
Even consumers who love to cook may find themselves losing steam when it comes to whipping up multiple meals a day. Some 65% of consumers said they are tired of cooking at home, according to Datassential research published in the report “Why Investing in Innovation is More Important than Ever Post-Quarantine.”
A survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of meal kit company Sun Basket produced similar data, with 55% of the 2,000 US consumers surveyed saying cooking during the pandemic has left them feeling fatigued.
Consumers are cooking an average of nine meals a week, according to the survey, which revealed that the average respondent has cooked the same meal 28 times since the pandemic began.
In addition to coming up with new recipe ideas, saving time in the kitchen and generally spending less time on meal preparation were common goals among those surveyed. Seven in 10 (69%) said they wish they could cook a healthy dinner more quickly and 43% want to spend less time planning out their meals.
Planning different meals every day was also among the challenges named by consumers in Acosta’s survey, with 40% of respondents listing it among their biggest challenges related to meal planning.
The sales and marketing company recommends several tactics for food manufacturers looking to meet consumer needs in the new normal, including utilizing technology to offer labor-saving solutions and leaning on the power of partnerships by bringing foodservice brands and chef-inspired ideas into retail.
“With more than half of consumers eating at home more often and some with less money to spend, there are a myriad of challenges and opportunities for retailers and manufacturers to navigate,” Acosta’s Vice President of Business Intelligence Colin Stewart said.
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