The need for speed: Americans spend less time eating now than 10 years ago
- According to the Economic Research Service’s Adult Eating & Health Module report funded by the USDA, during the last 10 years, Americans have spent less time eating meals. At the same time, the study found that prepared food purchases have also increased.
- Time spent eating as a secondary activity — defined as eating while doing something else — did not change much between the two time periods and is at an average of 17 minutes per day. However, the amount of time spent eating as a primary activity decreased by 5% to an average of 65 minutes per day.
- The data for this study was based on 36,000 interviews with adults aged 18 and older, and was collected over two 3-year periods: 2006-2008 and 2014-2016.
It seems official that convenience is now the key to grabbing a larger share of the average household food budget. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture already revealed that 50% of consumers’ food budgets were spent on convenience, and this report is again underscoring the importance of time when it comes to meals. According to this report, 58.2% of adult Americans purchased prepared meals in the previous week — and it’s not just millennials who are driving these statistics.
The USDA-funded report found that households without children are driving the time spent at a meal downward. The exception to this is individuals who are 65 and older, who spend 20% more time eating and drinking than other groups. Unsurprisingly, single-parent headed households spend the least amount of time eating than any other demographic.
Even though people are spending less time eating, it doesn't mean that they’re eating less. In fact, the study found that during a one week period, American adults are purchasing prepared food 2.8 times. Although millennials are purchasing more prepared options than older individuals, the increase in prepared food purchases during the last 10 years is across the board.
However, prepared food isn't the only solution. The study found that 68.6% of individuals get the majority of their food through traditional grocery shopping. So what are they buying? The answer may be found in the abundance of grab-and-go bars and the resurgence of frozen foods. This year, the frozen food category volume growth grew for the first time in five years, according to a report from RBC Capital Markets covered by Market Watch. Most of this increase came from frozen meals and appetizers.
Meal kits are another solution to which companies are turning. And they should. Internal research by Albertsons this year revealed that 80% of its customers say they want meal kits in stores. In response to this trend, Quaker announced it is making its way into the breakfast meal-kit business through the refrigerator section and even Tyson Foods, Campbell Soup and Hershey are also working to enter the industry. According to Nielsen, in-store meal kits currently account for $154.6 million in sales and are continuing to grow at a rapid pace — three times as fast as other channels.
The need for speed when it comes to eating seems to have graduated from a trend.
While there is still room for traditional ingredients and recipes, as life becomes more demanding, more time is spent elsewhere. While there may be only so far companies can pare down their offerings and still pack in all the nutrients that customers are demanding, if the study’s trends hold true, time spent eating while doing other activities will only grow. If that’s the case, food manufacturers may want to begin experimenting with hand-held, mess-free sustenance options.