From the time their feet hit the floor in the morning until they crawl into bed at night, today’s consumers are on the move. Mom and Dad are overworked, the kids are overscheduled, and the clock always seems to outrun us.
This has led to continuing change in the food purchasing habits of our nation’s population as we all adapt to an ever-busier way of life that requires flexibility in meal planning and scheduling. According to The Food Institute’s Food Industry Review, foodservice purchases now account for 47 percent of the average consumer’s food dollar.
It’s no wonder, then, those time-starved consumers often make the easiest and fastest choice, rather than the most healthful, when it comes to eating out or selecting convenience foods. And those decisions are reflected in the alarming obesity crisis, particularly among our children.
It seems it is not just foodservice that is paying attention to new take-home trends. Although home meal replacement isn’t a new concept for supermarkets, it is relatively new that they are offering significantly more options for grab-and-go meals. And the numbers tell us that consumers are responding with increased purchases.
According to recent research with 1,000 consumers around the country conducted on behalf of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) by Opinion Dynamics Corporation, almost a third of consumers (30 percent) say they are purchasing more ready-to-eat meals or foods from their supermarkets that they traditionally would have purchased from restaurants, either as “dine in” or “take home.” The heaviest purchasers of these items are females within the age brackets of 30-45 and 65+, have an annual income of $75,000 or more and are college graduates and married. Geographically, these consumer buying patterns are strongest in the South and Midwest.
Of the 53 percent who purchased ready-to-eat meals from supermarkets over the past year rather than dining in a restaurant, 27 percent say they are doing so a few times a week, 20 percent say weekly and 12 percent say daily. Using 2000 U.S. Census data, we estimate that 7.7 million households are buying ready-to-eat meals from their supermarkets every day.
Across the board, consumers believe that supermarket ready-to-eat meals and food provide just slightly more fruits and vegetables than do take-out or dine-in options from restaurants. Nevertheless, most consumers state that among these options (supermarket, dine-in, and take-home), less than 10 percent of these meals consist of fruits and vegetables.
Consumers consistently say they want more fresh fruit and vegetable options. And while fresh-cut is helping meet this consumer demand, there is much more that we, as an industry, can and should do.
Today’s busy lifestyles and public attention to the health benefits of better eating habits encourage the consumption of fresh produce and create an opportunity that both foodservice and retailers should take special note of and act accordingly.
Our research shows that supermarkets’ share of the ready-to-eat meals/foods category has grown substantially. Restaurants, however, still control the majority of the market.
These findings should lead supermarkets to increase their fresh produce options for take-home meals. Additionally, supermarkets can choose to discover ways that help consumers quickly grasp how easily fresh fruits and vegetables fit into a fast-paced lifestyle. Taste samplings, recipes, preparation tips and taking a fresh look at how we present produce are just some ideas for creating a sensory experience that will energize and inspire the most harried of shoppers.
Restaurants also have a cornucopia of opportunities to provide diners with what they crave while also lowering plate cost. From appetizers to desserts, restaurants have unlimited possibilities to provide flavorful and beautiful fruits and vegetables as choices across their menu spectrum.
Consumers say they want more fresh produce options for their meals. We must ask ourselves why we aren’t expanding our menus when, clearly, there is room on the plate.