Predictions for 2015 and Beyond

Consumers’ Evolving Relationships With Their Kitchens

By Darren Seifer, Food & Beverage Industry Analyst, The NPD Group

The fundamental habits of in-home food and beverage consumption are among the most stable consumer behaviors, but don’t take that to mean things aren’t changing. In fact, our tracking and forecasts revealed accelerated behaviors and activities among certain groups in the last economic recession. Given these changes, it’s important to incorporate the findings into your long-term strategic marketing and sales plans.

The changing face of convenience

Ever since the invention of the TV dinner, consumers have expressed a desire to get out of their kitchens in less time. Frozen dinners and entrees for many years provided the perfect solution for consumers looking to eat a complete meal without the preparation time or kitchen clean-up. But there’s rising evidence that consumers are shifting the meaning of convenience to include an element of freshness. We expect to see consumers use fresh ingredients in their foods in greater numbers; at the same time, they still seek ways to create these meals in a short amount of time. Appliances such as slow cookers, rice cookers, and pod coffee makers are helping consumers achieve the goal of having a fresh item in their home without sacrificing its integrity.

Share the prize with consumers

As consumers opt for more freshness, there are opportunities for them to make their foods in their own unique ways. It may be surprising that Millennials (mid-20s to mid-30s) in particular display this behavior, showing signs that they wish to be “sensibly involved” with their food and beverage preparation. They enjoy the time-saving factor food companies provide, but at the same time, they want to finish a dish with their own flavorings.

Millennials exhibit this behavior because while they are at an age when consumers typically eat away from home most often, the difficult economic times seemed to turn that core behavior on its head for this age group. Younger adults pulled back on restaurants the most, forcing them to become familiar, or even comfortable, with their kitchens much sooner than would be expected. For example, at breakfast time, Millennials consume cold cereal less often compared to other generations when they were that age, and they choose eggs and fresh pancakes more often. Both eggs and pancakes let home cooks add ingredients to customize them to their own unique preferences. To appeal to Millennials’ tastes, marketers would be wise to emphasize that their products are fresh, require little time to prepare, and offer the consumer a chance to make it their own.

Multicultural: more than Hispanic

According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 50 million Hispanics in the United States, and this is one of the fastest-growing population groups. They have had and will continue to have an enduring influence on the way we shop for food, eat, and dine out. We’ve already seen mainstream movements in consumption that have roots in Hispanic culture. Among these are a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients, heartier breakfasts, and bold seasonings when preparing in-home meals. We also know Hispanics’ influence will continue due to their average age. About 60 percent of U.S. Hispanics are Generation X or younger, meaning this quickly-growing group will shape younger generations and a generation yet to be born.

While not as numerous as the Hispanic population, Asians are the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the United States. The Census estimates there are about 20 million Asians in the U.S. While this is far fewer than the number of Hispanics in the U.S., we’re already seeing their influence on how we eat. It’s hard to turn a corner in any major city without seeing a Thai, Chinese, Japanese, or Asian fusion restaurant, but these foods typically have been reserved for away-from-home dining experiences. Our Kitchen Audit reveals there is an Asian influence on how we spice and flavor our foods in the home, as well. Sriracha, the Asian hot sauce, is a condiment staple in 16 percent of households with a homemaker under age 35 and in 9 percent of total households. This shows once again that younger households are more receptive to flavors that were once considered foreign, and those flavors are evolving the American palate.

GMO: Genetically modified organism or good marketing opportunity?

The debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) rolls on and so do the ballot initiatives that fail to muster 50+ percent of voters’ support. Our Food Safety Monitor shows concern for GMOs among adults is higher in 2014 compared to 2013. While the increase was modest compared to prior increases, the fact remains that more than one in five adults is very or extremely concerned that GMOs pose a potential health risk.

All eyes are on Vermont as its GMO-labeling law is set to take effect in 2016. If the law survives a federal court challenge, then other states might pursue similar regulations for food and beverage products. Additionally, Connecticut and Maine have already passed such laws, but they won’t take effect until a certain number of other states have similar regulations.

The effect of the legislation and related media coverage is that consumers are now starting to hear “GMO” as an everyday term instead of something only heard by scientists or industry insiders. While all previous ballot initiatives have failed, the people of Oregon in November 2014 came very close to being the first to approve one. It only failed by .04 percent, which makes one wonder how continued coverage of GMOs will influence people’s fears and sentiments.

In the midst of this debate, “GMO-free” is popping up on more product labels. Some marketers are taking this as an opportunity to set their products apart from their rivals’ products with labels that give them a perception of being healthier, even though the Food and Drug Administration considers food made with GMOs essentially the same as non-GMO foods.

For more information regarding consumer concerns, please contact Darren Seifer ( or your NPD representative.

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