Home News 2016 Why Satisfying Consumers at Dinner is Hardest

Why Satisfying Consumers at Dinner is Hardest

Consumers express a multitude of needs at each eating occasion, but dinnertime is consistently stacked with the most. Our report, Consumption Drivers: How Needs Shape Choices, delves into the myriad choices and motivations at all day parts. It shows breakfast occasions are consolidated into the fewest needs; dinner must address the most consumer needs.

When you ask someone why they ate a particular food at a particular time, they often give you an answer that sounds like, “Because I was hungry!” However, when you ask them about multiple occasions, they have the ability to distinguish motivations that drove each occasion. Digging through these responses clarifies what’s truly behind our choices at all meal occasions. We call this a need state – the sum of all the influencers that drive an individual’s decision to consume a particular food or beverage.

At the highest level, four fundamental macro needs drive all consumption: Fueling, Wellness, Connecting, and Gratifying. Underneath each macro need we find the specific need states, which tell us the distinct benefits and behaviors reported by consumers.


Among the top needs expressed at dinner are speed, favorites, a break from the ordinary, and health. Satisfying these needs is crucial to winning consumers’ favor at dinner, which is helping to grow services such as meal kits. While meal kits might not save consumers time in the kitchen, they do save time in other areas along the path to consumption, such as grocery shopping. Meal kit recipes are often rooted in what we eat often, such as chicken and vegetable dinners, but they also offer different flavors or sauces to make them new. And many consumers today equate fresh with health so the mere fact that meal kit ingredients come fresh is satisfying a major need.

Of course, whom you ask also plays into how often and how heavily these needs are expressed. Younger consumers place a greater emphasis on the need for a break from the ordinary; they want to try new and bolder flavors. Meanwhile, older Boomers and seniors prefer to stick with what they know and often make foods they’re certain they will enjoy rather than attempting to be adventurous.

We’ve observed many changes in the foods and beverages consumers use and how they use them. Some categories that were dominant during meal occasions are now losing share to many smaller and growing categories. Consumers are also choosing to eat snack foods at main meals more often. Given all these changes, we need to take another look at the key drivers behind consumption decisions.

For more information on need states please contact darren.seifer@npd.com.

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