LAS VEGAS — The supermarket industry has tremendous potential to leverage consumers' growing affinity for at-home dining, according to a presentation at the Food Marketing Institute Show here last week.
Rising food prices and the uncertain economy are driving Americans to cut down on restaurant patronage and instead fire up their own ovens, but food retailers need to do more to help these consumers find their way in the kitchen, Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer of FMI, told attendees.
“We are not just welcoming people back to the store,” he said. “You are retraining a whole new generation about how to do meal planning, what kinds of foods are quick and easy to prepare, and how do you involve kids in cooking. They are asking a lot of questions.”
He cited statistics from the FMI Trends survey of consumers, which found that people are now eating the evening meal at restaurants an average of 1.2 times per week, down from 1.5 times just two years ago. They are eating home-cooked meals up to 4.9 times per week, and ordering in during the other times.
The survey revealed that 93% of consumers eat a home-cooked meal at least once per week, up from 89% in the preceding year's survey.
“They are cooking at home, and that's great news after decades of erosion of our market share by restaurants,” Hammonds said.
A growing number of shoppers say they are eating more meals at home that have been prepared someplace else, such as restaurants, however. More than half of consumers — 63% — cited fast-food takeout and other delivery or takeout options, such as pizza and Chinese food, as their primary source for meals eaten at home but prepared outside the home. Supermarkets lost some ground in that area in the past year, as only 14% of respondents cited supermarkets as their primary source for takeout to eat at home, down from 16% a year ago.
Consumers strongly believe that home cooking is cheaper than dining out, however: They reported spending $12 per person (the median response) to eat out, vs. $5 per person to prepare a meal at home.
“This is a battle you can win, because it lines up with consumer beliefs,” Hammonds said of the competition with restaurants for share of stomach. “People believe eating at home saves money.”
For many consumers, the survey found that cooking and eating at home also helps strengthen the family and can be healthier than eating in restaurants.
Only 8% of consumers in the survey said they felt that the food they eat away from home is healthier than the food they eat at home.
Health and wellness “is a space that supermarkets should own,” Hammonds told attendees. “There's no other format that can take it away from you unless you give it away.”
He cited results from the FMI Shopping for Health survey showing that 88% of shoppers say they are either somewhat or very concerned about the nutritional content on the food they eat.