More than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Americans still are eating fewer meals out with friends and co-workers and more meals at home than they were prepandemic—though how they're sourcing and preparing those at-home meals has changed from two years ago, new research from FMI – The Food Industry Association finds.
In its latest U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report, FMI examines consumers’ views on planning and preparing meals and looks at where meals take place and with whom they are shared. Both rising inflation and COVID-19's lingering impacts—including a greater number of U.S. workers working from home more often—are influencing consumers' dining decisions, according to FMI.
"More people have been cooking, or at least assembling, at home," FMI notes, adding that "the trends of more eating at home and with other household members continue despite some shoppers missing the social aspects of eating out and gathering with friends."
With grocery prices rising and pandemic-prompted cooking enthusiasm waning, shoppers "are more flexible in buying what they need" as they look both for deals and convenient, easy-to-prepare meal solutions. This can mean sourcing groceries and meals from a wider variety of stores and channels, with preference going toward those offering the best prices and/or the best quality on shoppers' top-priority items, according to FMI; it can also mean grabbing more fresh-prepared and ready-to-prep options from grocers for a convenient but appealing family meal.
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Changed weekday routines resulted in respondents reporting that they "eat together with others" less than they used to, and even at home, lunch and midday snacks often are consumed solo, FMI reported. Also, "challenges in inspiration, inconsistent schedules and other resource constraints create friction to family dinners," according to FMI. While the pandemic brought more people into the kitchen, trying new cooking trends, experimenting with new appliances and learning new cooking skills, the share of those who said they love to cook dropped from 23% of consumers in 2021 to 19% of consumers this year.
Consumers still are planning meals more now than they were prepandemic, but they're spending less time preparing main meals. More than half of consumers plan meals in advance (46% do so early in the day; 30% said they do so days in advance). FMI's polling also found that meal preparation is “getting quicker,” and that “three-quarters (74%) say it takes less than one hour to prepare their meals” (30% say they spend 30 minutes or less preparing meals).
Consumers' need for speed—and affordability—in getting dinner on the table will create challenges for retailers through 2022 despite higher (and inflation-boosted) consumer spending, FMI concluded. Grocery retailers are likely to find themselves "serving a smaller share of shopper needs as shoppers increasingly split their purchases among trips, channels and methods," the report's authors wrote. "Beyond incentivizing larger purchases through targeted discounts for loyalty or large baskets, retailers can attract shoppers by excelling at execution of at least one online method and continuing to facilitate shopper control over the quality of their selection."