Hard-hit by inflation and confronted with rising restaurant prices, Gen Z and millennial consumers (aged 13–39) are heading to the kitchen for some do-it-yourself meal prep, which creates opportunities for CPG companies with products that streamline the process, make it healthier, or spice it up.
Gen Zers and millennials say inflation is the biggest problem they’re currently facing, according to research firm YPulse. So it’s not surprising that six in 10 adults aged 25–34 are cooking more dinners at home than they did last year, according to Mintel’s U.S. Feeding the Family Market Report 2022.
What’s driving meal-making choices for at-home cooks? Here’s a look at some key trends that are affecting Gen Z, millennials, and other demographic segments.
• Easy and Economical. Convenience rules even for those on a budget. Seven in 10 millennials (versus half of all adults) say they are trying to make dinner preparation easier, according to Taste of Home’s 2022 Cooking at Home Survey.
Only one-third of dinners are made from scratch, per the Power of Foodservice at Retail report from FMI—The Food Industry Association. Half combine from-scratch elements with prepared items, and one in 10 is made from fully prepared foods, FMI reports.
Midweek dinners are shifting toward frozen, pre-packaged, or foodservice-sourced meals and components, according to a 2022 survey by Morning Consult. Unit sales of fresh prepared entrées/side dishes jumped 12% and fresh soup unit sales were up 14% for the 12 weeks ended April 17, 2022, versus the same period last year, according to IRI.
• Staying Healthy. More than half of consumers are making healthier dinners, meals with unique flavors, and those that include whole foods a priority, according to the Hartman Group’s At the Dining Table 2021 analysis. When planning a meal, consumers most often start with protein (61%), followed by those who think first about flavor/cuisines (19%). Fresh-cut salad and side dish kits are among the fastest-growing fresh produce items, according to IRI data.
Nestlé’s Life Cuisine brand of healthful frozen entrées came in at No. 9 on the IRI New Product Pacesetters list of best-selling new food and drinks in 2021, with $72.8 million in year one sales. Tattooed Chef frozen meals were cited among IRI’s “Rising Stars.”
• Plenty of Plant-Based. One in 10 consumers prepare plant-based meat alternatives at home weekly; 29% do so once a month or more, per FMI data. Culinevo Kitchen offers new plant-based ready-to-eat casseroles in varieties like Shepherd’s Pie.
According to the 2022 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council, nearly a third (31%) of consumers are eating more protein from whole-plant sources versus 22% who are opting for more plant-based meat and seafood alternatives.
FMI reports that home-prepared dinners that contain meat/poultry have fallen to pre-pandemic levels of 3.9 evenings per week.
• Saucy and Spicy. Sales of specialty pasta/sauces are among the top 10 fastest-growing specialty food items for the year ended April 17, 2022, per SPINS. MarRosa’s Old World Cuisine, founded in 2021 by a college student, recently added a Sicilian Sauce to its lineup of pasta sauces.
Curry, Korean barbecue, hot honey, Szechuan pepper, coconut, shawarma, miso, and “Nashville hot” are among the flavors and food styles consumers are excited about trying with meat proteins, per T. Hasegawa. Pho-in-One soup from Chix Soup Co., which is seasoned with fish sauce, hoisin, and sriracha, was a gold award winner in the Specialty Food Association’s 2022 product competition.
• Restaurant-Style at Home. Of those who say they’ll be spending less at restaurants, 62% plan to make a greater effort to re-create restaurant experiences at home, according to FMI. That opens up opportunities for ethnic fare prepared at home because consumers frequently turn to globally inspired options when they dine out, Datassential reports.
The list of global cuisines most consumed by U.S. adults includes, in descending order, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Thai, Latin other than Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Korean, per flavor company T. Hasegawa.