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food Cooking Behavior Close-Up

Although 44% of all consumers—and 84% of foodies—really enjoy cooking, easy-to-prepare foods are still the favorite for more than half (53%) of U.S. meal preparers.

Preparing healthier meals, cooking with herbs/spices and seasonal vegetables are the top skills/tasks consumers would like to improve.,Jeannette Ferrary

Although 44% of all consumers—and 84% of foodies—really enjoy cooking, easy-to-prepare foods are still the favorite for more than half (53%) of U.S. meal preparers, according to Packaged Facts’ 2015Foodies in the U.S. report.

While Packaged Facts reports that half of meal preparers usually plan dinner a day or two in advance, 38% very often/frequently struggle for ideas of what to make at mealtime, and that is true for 44% of Millennials, according to the Hartman Group’s Culture of Foods: New Appetites, New Routines (2015). When deciding what to cook for dinner on a weekday, time/ease of preparation is important for 36%, cost is important for 35%, and healthfulness for 29%, reports the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) 2015 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends.

According to FMI, on average, 5.1 evening meals are prepared at home each week, not including takeout, ordering in, or picking up from a drive-through or restaurant. Sixty-nine percent of consumers prepare dinner using foods/ingredients from home five or more nights per week.

How does cooking behavior break out generationally? Frequency of cooking at home appears to increase slightly with age. Millennials prepared dinner at home an average of 4.5 times per week in 2014; Gen Xers, 5.0 times; Boomers, 5.1; and those aged 65-plus, 5.2, according to FMI’s 2014 shopper survey. FMI also reports that having multiple cooks in a single household is occurring with increasing frequency. In 2014, 46% of men handled day-to-day meal preparation or shared responsibility for it, per Gallup.

Oven preparation, stovetop cooking, grilling, and microwaving remain the top cooking techniques, according to Mintel’s 2013 Cooking Enthusiasts—U.S. report. Just about half (49%) of shoppers say they’re preparing meals that are healthier, according to FMI’s 2015 Power of Meat study; 24% are steaming and stir-frying more often than five years ago, and 19% are frying less frequently.

The NPD Group’s 2015 Kitchen Audit reports that 18% of U.S. households regularly use a slow cooker. Millennials are more likely than other groups to have a blender, panini press, soda maker, pizza oven, and electric rice cooker.

More than 95% of households own at least one grill, according to the 2014 Grilling Attitudes & Usage Study from market research firm de Kadt. Burgers, chicken, hot dogs, and pork chops are the most grilled meats; sides are grilled alongside the protein 41% of the time. Pickling, fermenting, fire roasting, smoking, sous vide, and cast iron preparation are the top culinary food preparation trends for 2015, according to the National Restaurant Assoc.’s 2014 What’s Hot Survey.

When consumers cook, they often opt for fresh. Forty-four percent of shoppers are buying more fresh ingredients, up 10% from two years ago, per FMI’s shopper study. Almost half (45%) of meal preparers enhance convenience foods by adding extra ingredients all the time, Gallup reports. Gallup data also indicate that meal preparers name, on average, five flavors/ingredients popular in their households. Garlic, onion, red/green pepper, avocado, jalapeno peppers, balsamic vinegar, chives, and feta cheese lead the list.

Nielsen Perishables Group reports that sales of packaged salads reached $3.4 billion for the year ended March 28, 2015; sales of complete salad kits grew to $700 million, up 29%. Nearly one-quarter of consumers (23%) regularly buy premarinated, preseasoned, or value-added meats and poultry such as kababs, according to FMI.

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Refrigerated entrées, frozen stir-fry dinner kits, packaged meal kits, and refrigerated heat-and-eat potatoes/pasta were the most popular convenience foods among Millennial meal preparers, according to Gallup.

Packaged Facts reports that the number of consumers who like to try new recipes increased by32% over the past five years. Foodies are more than twice as likely to follow a recipe when they cook (47% versus 22% for mainstream consumers); they’re three times more likely to prefer video recipes and step-by-step illustrations, according to Packaged Facts. The research firm also reports that keeping up cultural/family cooking traditions is very important to one-quarter of meal preparers.

Just over half of meal preparers describe themselves as experienced cooks, indicating a decline in cooking skills from the previous year, according to Gallup. Boomers/mature consumers are now only slightly more likely than their younger counterparts to consider themselves skilled cooks.

Preparing healthier meals, cooking with herbs/spices, cooking lighter, slow-cooker meal preparation, and cooking with seasonal vegetables are the top skills/tasks consumers would like to improve. Preparing low-cost meals, outdoor grilling, baking from scratch, and cooking with raw/fresh ingredients are important to Millennials, according to Gallup. More than one-quarter of consumers would like more convenient placement of items for full meal solutions (e.g., pastas, sauces, meat, bread, and salad) in the grocery store, reports FMI.

A. Elizabeth Sloan, PhD,

Contributing Editor

President, Sloan Trends Inc.,

Escondido, Calif.