Although consumers may be eating out less often as they feel the financial pinch, they are not necessarily cooking from scratch. NPD’s latest research shows that the percentage of main meals which could be described as ‘fresh’ or ‘homemade’ has remained constant at 49 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile, microwave oven usage surged by 10 percent last year, having been used in the preparation of about 20 percent of meals since 1990.
The report’s author and chief industry analyst at NPD Harry Balzer said: “Microwaving has been flat for two decades, but it increased last year as Americans found a way to eat at home and not cook. We’re using our microwaves to warm and heat more, but not prepare more dishes from scratch.”
NPD’s newest version of its annual report, Eating Patterns in America, attempts to separate those trends that have resulted from the recession and those that are likely to outlive it.
"There was a lot of speculation last year as to how our eating behaviors changed as a result of the economic crisis,” Balzer said. “The truth is that consumer behavior changes slowly. I’ve observed America’s eating patterns in good and bad economies, and the constant is that there is no recession in eating ─ and Americans don’t want to cook what they eat.”
Many market researchers have examined the financial crisis as a major driver behind consumer trends during 2009, including a move toward good value, quality foods for preparing at home as they eat out less, and seeking out ingredients for added health benefits in an effort to avoid the costs associated with becoming ill.