Shrinking household sizes are changing how Americans eat, buy food

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Acosta Sales & Marketing The Evolution of Eating Insights into Americans' Changing Habits
Source: Acosta Sales & Marketing The Evolution of Eating Insights into Americans' Changing Habits

Related tags Grocery store Food manufacturers Food

A whopping nine out of 10 consumers prefer to eat at home, but the size and make-up of those households are changing and so are consumers’ needs from food and beverage companies, according to research firm Acosta Sales & Marketing. 

“Today’s households feature more singles living alone, fewer children, greater diversity and more from female breadwinners” ​than 60 years ago and how they shop for groceries reflects these changes, according to Acosta’s Hot Topic Report: The Evolution of Eating​. 

For example, in the 2000s, 27.5% of households include one person – nearly three times the percentage in the 1950s. In addition, only 19.6% of married couples lived with children and only 9.6% of homes had five or more people in the 2000s compared to 55.1% of homes with children and 21.4% with five or more people in the 1950s, according to the report.

What this means for food manufacturers is smaller households need smaller packages of food, such as meals for two, re-sealable packaging and affordable ingredients for meals, according to the report.

In addition, with 56.2% of women enrolled in college in the 2000s compared to 32.2% in the 1950s, more women are breadwinners rather than bread makers – meaning fewer women have time to cook from scratch and meal preparation has become more the norm, the report notes.

“We are still eating at home, but instead of a dinner entirely cooked from scratch, it’s more likely a hybrid homemade meal such as a grocery store rotisserie chicken with a salad-in-a-bag and homemade new potatoes,”​ the report notes. It adds that 46% of U.S. diners prepare meals at home “a lot more often”​ or “more often”​ than last year, but that 16% ordered carry out food from a restaurant or prepared meals at home from a grocery store more often than the previous year.

This trend bodes well for consumer packaged goods that can lighten the work load of cooking, while still giving consumers wiggle room for creativity. For example, The Healthy Pantry’s line of Cooksimple meal kits provide the foundation for easy dinner, but encourage people to add fresh produce and protein and gives directions for multiple variations. (Read more about Cooksimple HERE​.) 

The report also advises food manufacturers to focus on offering a protein with a vegetable side, which was the favorite dinner option across generations, except for millennials who placed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in first place.

Link center store foods to the perimeter

The strategy of tying center store products to the perimeter to deliver solutions for shoppers also will help CPGs tap into consumers’ desire for fresh and healthy foods, the report notes.

“Health eating continues to evolve and there are no signs of waning interest. More than half of shoppers reported trying to eat more fruits and vegetables in the past year. Eating more whole grains and buying foods with fewer preservatives are areas where shoppers showed increased interest,”​ according to the report.

Top claims

In addition to buying whole grains, 42% of consumers said in the past year they bought products that are low-, free- and reduced-fat, 41% bought low- or no-sugar foods and 40% bought “all natural”​ products.

Lower on the list of claims for foods purchased were organic (34%), no high fructose corn syrup (32%) and GMO free (16%), according to the report.

CPGs can respond to these trends by cleaning up their ingredient lists and educating consumers about how their products fit into a healthy diet, the report advises.

Bold flavors on the rise

With more international people living in the U.S., consumers are being introduced to new flavors and demanding foods from their heritage, the report notes.

“From spicy sriracha sauce to juicy, organic satsuma mandarins, our palates and our eyes have been opened to a whole world of flavor” ​and demand for new flavors will continue with the cultural shift and media proliferation, it says.

The best way for CPG firms to stay on top of flavor and food trends is to watch Instagram and Pinterest for top trends, it advises. 

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