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Items On Hand Help Solve the Dinner Dilemma

We’ve all heard the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” For many consumers, this question isn’t answered until right before dinnertime. This creates stress for some while others seem to solve for it by ensuring they keep a bountiful supply of ingredients available in their kitchens.

Among dinner planners, 80 percent say they finalize their dinner plans the day of the meal. As dinnertime approaches, the likelihood of opting to go out to eat or use carry out/delivery to solve for dinner increases. Our recent research on the Path to Consumption® for dinner shows that when dinner plans are finalized the day of the meal, 36 percent of the time planners opt to “shop their pantries,” or rely on items already on hand. On evenings like these, dinner planners are more likely to choose pasta, spaghetti, meat, and poultry for their entrees. In 2014, our Kitchen Audit study found 90 percent of households had dry pasta on hand and over 70 percent of households reported they had beef and/or chicken on hand, both of which can be “go to” items for building meals. Meanwhile frozen entrees are less likely to be used on these evenings.

Understanding the strategies and goals for what meal preparers decide to keep on hand is critical for developing strategies for winning a larger share of last minute “shop the pantry” meals. For example, while these are same-day decisions that rely on what’s on hand, nearly one in three meal preparers often say they turn to their pantries instead of ordering out because they enjoy cooking.

Family households can get more complicated for planners, who often grapple with different dinnertimes for family members or “shift eating.” This occurs at one in five dinners for households with kids. For about half of these situations it’s different meals for different people, and the meal preparer becomes something like a short-order cook. In these situations, consumers need solutions that are flexible without being more time-consuming for the meal preparer.

Since primary meal preparers traditionally have been women, many marketers still concentrate their messaging toward the head female in the home, but shifting demographics should encourage a more gender-neutral approach. While the dinner planner is slightly more likely to be an adult female, adult males report they are active in the process, either helping with the final decision-making or providing input. And with 40 percent of teens also reporting that they contribute to dinner plans, marketers should ensure their messages resonate with multiple family members and that all needs are being met.

For more information on the struggles consumers face at dinnertime along the Path to Consumption contact darren.seifer@npd.com
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