What, When, and Where America Eats A. Elizabeth Sloan | January 2016, Volume 70, No.1

A new megatrend focused on gourmet convenience, interest in more plant-based fare, and a need for more complete grab-and-go meal solutions are among the factors creating fundamental shifts in Americans’ eating behaviors.

Gourmet foods
Increasingly, U.S. consumers are foodies with an on-the-go lifestyle, and that is translating to food choices that are more experiential, convenient, and impulse-driven. However, while more consumers want to savor their food experiences and the numbers of those who really enjoy cooking—or consider themselves recreational cooks—are at an all-time high, they still often simultaneously seek simplicity and ease of preparation, creating a new fundamental food selection factor best described as “gourmet convenience.”

While 83% of consumers say that taste has a great impact on their food choices, followed by price, which is cited by 68%, and healthfulness, noted by 60%, they feel less strongly about these factors than they did in 2014. The number of consumers citing the preceding attributes is down 7%, 5%, and 11%, respectively (IFIC 2015). In contrast, convenience and sustainability, which have a significant impact on food choices for 52% and 35%, respectively, have remained strong and stable over the past four years (IFIC 2015).

Four out of 10 adult eating occasions involve a more sophisticated, culinary-driven experience, and that is true for a third of snacking occasions and 29% of children’s eating occasions (Hartman 2014a). Forty-seven million adults define themselves as foodies, and 29 million are further categorized by Packaged Facts as being part of a highly involved, serious culinary core group. Millennials account for 36% of this dedicated group and Baby Boomers for 32% (Packaged Facts 2015a).

It appears that a growing number of consumers are adventurous in their choices, and some even think of dining as a form of artistic expression. Over the past five years, the number of consumers who like to try new drinks jumped 34%, the number who enjoy trying new recipes was up 32%, and the number of those who enjoy food presented as an “art form” climbed by 20%. In addition, the number who said they really enjoy cooking increased by 16% (Packaged Facts 2015a).