- People in the U.S. are continuing to cook more, with 71% saying they will continue to do so after the pandemic ends, according to a new survey by consumer market research firm Hunter. This habit is driven by the increase in home cooks’ creativity and confidence in the kitchen, as well as the motivation that cooking at home helps to save money (67%), eat healthier (56%) and feel good (56%).
- Other trends are moderating. One is wasting less food, something 58% of households were doing in April, but 42% did at the end of the year. And while consumers started eating more indulgently at the beginning of the pandemic, 56% said they were back to their normal eating habits by December — 14% more than in April. Consumers are also more likely to order out than they were at the beginning of the pandemic. One in five is enjoying to-go food more than prior to COVID-19.
- The pandemic has drastically altered consumer eating habits, which Hunter has been tracking throughout the last nine months. From its first survey in April to its most recent at the end of 2020, the firm developed a comparative perspective on consumers' meal preparation and consumption behaviors and attitudes. These results echo findings elsewhere indicating that cooking from home is far from going out of style, and manufacturers need to adapt to this new reality.
The pandemic has left a mark on consumption habits with 85% of consumers saying they have altered their eating habits as a result of the pandemic, according to a study by the International Food Information Council. However, with the promise of widespread vaccination inching closer, manufacturers are wondering if they will be able to retain the momentum they gained in 2020.
Some studies have shown consumers are getting increasingly tired of always cooking at home. The Hunter data reflects this, showing takeout and delivery orders are up significantly, compared to the onset of the pandemic when restaurant takeout sales declined 8%. These data indicate while dining-in may still be limited, restaurants are still centerpieces of the American dining culture, providing the convenience and variety that diners crave. From 2015 until the pandemic began, foodservice surpassed sales for retail food and beverage. The recent shift in dining behavior may be indicative that the resurgence of CPG sales is a function not of consumer habit, but of circumstance.
Although some are becoming less interested in cooking in their own kitchens, many are finding they like it. According to a September report by sales and marketing agency Acosta, 35% of people have developed a newfound passion for cooking, which is 10% more than those tiring of having to cook frequently.
Although Hunter's findings similarly showed that cooking at home may be a long-lasting trend, what people are cooking may soon shift. According to a survey from Mattson last spring, 58% said they will immediately be ready to purchase new products and introduce variety into their diets when the pandemic is over. Consumers seeking out different products is nothing new, but this is a reversal from 2020, when consumers made do with what was available on shelves and manufacturers whittled down the number of SKUs in their portfolio in favor of focusing on popular products.
Despite the upcoming anticipated change in consumer habits, Big Food remains confident that strategies employed to adapt to the pandemic will remain relevant in the future. Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put said in November demand for the company's snack offerings will remain robust as demand returns in channels hit hard by the pandemic, such as convenience stores. Similarly, Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio said during the company's third-quarter earnings call he expects consumers will continue to gravitate toward big brands.
Ashley Lind, director of demand sciences at Conagra, said this month that certain shifts in eating habits, including more frequently consuming breakfast at home, have staying power. She said people have invested in their kitchens during the pandemic, buying small appliances such as waffle makers and single-serve brewing machines they will want to continue to use.
With an optimistic outlook from analysts and manufacturers alike on the staying power of home cooking, manufacturers still have a long path to adapt from the days of pantry loading to a future likely colored by continued economic uncertainly and a newfound ability to choose between restaurants and one's kitchen.