Eating In is the New Dining Out

What social conversations can reveal about food choices and healthy living

People are fond of repeating the old saw “you are what you eat,” but new consumer eating habits may mean we need to update the saying. You are what you eat, sure — but, increasingly, you are where you eat as well.

Americans are contemplating this now more than ever. Millennials, the poster children for modern consumerism, have decided to spend their food dollars at home rather than outside.

They live by the axiom of “When you start eating food without labels, you longer need to count calories.” This approach begins with not just ditching packaged foods and take out, but a holistic approach to healthy living which calls for paying attention to what you eat, a balanced nutritious diet that go beyond short-term silver bullet solutions ,an exercise routine that contributes to a stress-free lifestyle.

This approach means turning over a new leaf for many Americans, especially considering statistics close to 72% of them visit a quick service restaurant for lunch and 20% enjoy visiting a full service restaurant with table service once a week.

So what’s causing the change to eat at home rather than go out? Several different reasons, but they all start with awareness and mindfulness towards a healthy diet and its integral role in daily life.

And there is no better place to start than social media conversations. People flock to social media and online forums to express their anxieties about unhealthy food, share tips and resources to eat better, crowdsource recipes for cooking at home, accept group diet challenges and motivate others to make better food choices. We tuned into these conversations and analyzed millions of posts between 2010-2017 to identify the transformations taking place in people’s attitude about health and nutrition.

We were able to recognize that there wasn’t a single trend explaining this change but rather a culmination of a bunch of factors that all start with a more aware, conscious consumer.

Specifically, we found three ways that the consumer conversation around how and where consumers eat has changed since 2010:

  • Changing attitudes about what constitutes healthy food choices
  • Increasing convenience of online grocery shopping
  • Rise in popularity of meal kit subscriptions

Better goods make better foods

Americans are increasingly concerned with the origins, sources, and ingredients of the food they eat. The basis of eating clean and natural is knowing how and where the food is sourced — restaurants and grocery stores, as a result, have to feed consumer awareness before their appetite. We see habits change as consumers buy into the idea that managing health starts with good food. Being in control of consumption is reflected in people’s choices of dining in or going out to eat.

Social conversations vouch for this. Dining out was discussed more frequently from 2010 until 2015, but over the last year, staying in and ordering takeout was talked about more. Specific discussion helps us understand this better, where the joys of eating in are associated with time well spent with family, and the added perk of eating healthy and dining out is associated with high costs, unhealthy and a habit that needs curtailing.

Once confined to the margins of the American food conversation, organic has officially taken center stage in the US and the rising prevalence of farmers markets, although seasonal feeds well into this trend. But even for those who may not have access to and/or cannot afford farmers markets produce, big retail chains like Walmart and Costco can always be relied upon.

Unsurprisingly, our data found that the organic-eating, non-GMO, healthy-food advocates prefer eating at home to dining out. As a group, they discuss cooking at home twice as often as those talking about dining out, and they may even be acting on it — Restaurant sales dropped in July this year, setting back an industry that was already showing only modest signs of improvement in recent months. Same-store sales were down 2.8 percent, a sharp 1.8 percentage point decline from June.

As usual, one can expect millennials to take charge in leading a trend. Surveys show that millennials are twice as likely to eat at home as their older counterparts. According to USDA, More than half of all food commodities obtained in the U.S. between 1994 and 2008 were for at-home consumption. Nearly 80% of total fruit, dairy and nut expenditures were consumed at home, while 61% of all meats and fish were purchased for at-home use.

The convenience of online grocery shopping

While enjoying a sumptuous meal with loved ones at home sounds wonderful, grocery shopping for said meal does not. It can be tedious, time consuming and not to mention, expensive especially while buying healthy foods. This inconvenience has spurted the growth of the $21 billion industry that is online grocery sales.

A Nielsen report released earlier this year pointed out that roughly 3 in 5 grocery shoppers have used couponing on their phones before entering stores. Others are avoiding stores altogether.

Online shopping is winning the battle against grocery stores on most counts thanks to better prices, convenience, and customer service — hitting the trifecta that consumers look for.

Packaged ingredients, ready to cook? Yes, please

Online grocery shopping gets hits the sweet spot of convenience and costs but it still doesn’t get meal planning out of the way. Planning a week’s meals, making detailed lists to shop online can seem tedious when compared to neatly organized supplies, along with recipes for the entire week’s meals arriving at the doorstep like clockwork.

Companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Plate Joy have transformed the dining in experience by eliminating meal planning and shopping altogether. The success of these services and a market rapidly growing from $1.5 billion has prodded retail gaints like Kroger, Whole Foods and even Amazon to tap into the industry.

Conclusion

The inclusions and exclusions that consumers make in their diets determine how they shop at supermarkets. Some vegans may prefer soy milk, whereas some others may choose almond milk. Similarly, for the gluten-free folks there are a number of flour options like rice, tapioca, corn and potato. Dietary restrictions make it hard to monitor food intake at restaurants. And the CPG industry is accommodates for diet quirks with a range of different products, easy-to-cook readymade meals, subscription meal kits and of course, the ease of internet shopping.

This is a part of a larger series on consumer packaged goods. Download the larger report on consumer opinions of groceries and nutrition in the consumer packaged goods industry below.

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