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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Meals at Home Gain Renewed Importance for American Families Post-Recession

The recession ruined everything…or so it seemed.  Businesses crumbled. Unemployment soared. The housing market crashed.  And now on the precipice of another presidential election, the recession’s impact to many lingers as a blemish on the résumé of the incumbent and a formidable—and perhaps persistent—challenge for the eventual winner.

Even the food and beverage industry wasn’t immune to this economic scourge, as consumers sought less costly alternatives to the products and brands they loyally purchased in better times.  Restaurant foot traffic declined.  Fast food dollar menus got more creative.  While various incarnations of 2 for $20 meal deals appeared in seemingly every casual dining restaurant chain nationwide. 

Nevertheless there has been some (literal) feasting amid the famine.  Less money to spend dining outside the home, has meant more dining inside the home.  The result is the triumphant return of the home cooked meal punctuated by honest-to-goodness nutritious foods and family bonding time.  While the lack of money to dine out has impacted Millennials harder than any other group of U.S. consumers, it is Gen Xer parents who apparently have found the most cause to parlay what some would consider a pseudo mealtime travesty into an opportunity to nurture and feel closer to their children.

According to Packaged Facts’ recently released report, How We Eat: Retail and Foodservice Opportunities in When and Where America Eats, there exists a correlation between a healthy, happy family and home cooked meals.  Eating meals at home together is said to improve a family’s health and well-being, reduce the risk of youth substance abuse, and prevent chronic disease.  Parents have found security in the knowledge that eating regular family meals at home means their children are likely to eat more healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and consume higher amounts of important nutrients (calcium, fiber, and iron)—while conversely consuming less fat and avoiding unhealthy snacks.   Additionally, mealtime togetherness contributes more strongly to the well-being of children than other common family activities or recreational activities performed outside the home such as sports, dance, arts, clubs, etc.

As the 2012 electoral dust inevitably settles and America drifts further away from the worst of the recession and acquiesces to the new economic normal, it will be interesting to see how both consumers and food industry players respond.  People will continue to find ways to indulge their whims to dine outside the home, but one can’t help but believe that the forced/necessary resurgence of the home cooked meal has reawakened something enduring.  Now that we have seen firsthand how much happier and healthier our children are nestled in the sanctity of our domestic kitchens and dining tables, how can we ever fully go back to the way it was pre-recession?

Still the reality is people aren’t getting any less busy.  Parents don’t have and won’t always have time to cook from scratch as much as they might like to.  By providing healthier, fresher ready meals and better quality frozen foods, industry players will continue to help Americans find opportunities to juggle their responsibilities professionally, socially, and domestically.

For food retail manufacturers, Hispanic households will be a key entry point for sustained sales and growth. Hispanics have tremendous buying power and traditionally place importance on home and family.  According to the report, Hispanics are responsible for 13% of aggregate food expenditures.  During the peak period of the recession between 2007-2010, Hispanic share of food-at-home expenditures increased by 22%, out pacing figures for non-Hispanics.  There’s no reason to believe this upward trend won’t continue.