Contrary to recent news reports that U.S. consumers are eating at restaurants more, consumers are, in fact, increasingly eating and preparing their meals at home. Due to a changing workforce, the ease of online shopping, and the boom in streaming entertainment, there are fewer reasons than ever to leave the house. The most popular place to eat out in America is our own home.
I do understand the confusion since foodservice spending has been increasing —up two percent in the year ending May 2018 — but foodservice spending doesn’t equate to foodservice visits, which were flat in the period. Restaurant visits, whether onsite, drive-thru, or ordered for delivery, are more indicative of foodservice growth than spending. Foodservice spending is up primarily because the cost of a restaurant meal is increasing faster than the cost of a home prepared meal. Additionally, a restaurant meal has historically cost more than an in-home meal, typically as much as three times more.
Although there are certainly pockets of growth in the foodservice industry, since the recession the industry remains challenged to get people out of their homes to eat. In our daily research of U.S. consumers’ eating behaviors, we consistently show that four out of five meals are prepared at home, and although the relationship of in-home prepared meals versus those sourced away-from-home has been stable for a few years, we still prepare more meals at home than we did a decade ago.
That is not to say that consumers aren’t looking for shortcuts in their meal preparation. Close to half of dinners purchased from a restaurant are consumed at home and many in-home meals are a blend of dishes we prepare and items purchased ready-to-eat from a foodservice establishment. Our just published Future of Dinner study forecasts that blended meals, which include a restaurant or prepared food, will grow over the next five years. This, to me, is a win-win for both food manufacturers and foodservice operators.
There will always be competition between food companies and foodservice operators for consumers’ food dollars, and it’s not entirely a matter of where consumers are eating but rather what they’re eating. The key is to understand that consumers are ultimately calling the shots and the winners will be those who listen.