How dinner is changing to suit today’s hectic lifestyles

By Kathy Perrotta

Today’s modern eating culture is fraught with a vast array of options, with around-the-clock access enabling consumers to make more autonomous choices that meet highly personal preferences and needs. What do I feel like? Do I feel like cooking at home, or should I go out? Should I pick something up or get it delivered?

The enormity of choice, unprecedented access and increased comfort with spontaneous decision-making has evolved our eating culture to the point where we give little deliberation or forethought to what we are going to eat. This impulsive behaviour is apparent when investigating shifting eating habits and practices at dinner.

The time investment in meal management is diminishing, as is an overall commitment to a weekly dinner plan. Increasingly, decisions about what to eat are made in-the-moment reacting to a craving or on a whim. More than half of all decisions (54 per cent) about what to eat for dinner are ‘day of’ verdicts, while an additional 14 per cent of decisions are made within an hour of the actual occasion.

Ipsos’ 2016 Canada CHATS Food and Beverage Trends Report investigates how today’s dinner planning behaviours, preparation habits and time investment stands in stark contrast to yesteryear’s traditional ways of engaging with food.

Back then, creation and execution of the weekly meal plan was the sole responsibility of one household member, typically Mom. Meals and snacks were most often sourced from well-stocked refrigerators, freezers and pantries that were emptied by week’s end, leading to the next major weekly grocery shop. Going to restaurants was often a treat or special event that was also written into the plan, but was definitely not part of the meal routine.

Fast forward to 2016. Today’s hectic schedules and shifting priorities, commuter culture and two working parents often renders a weekly meal routine too difficult and inefficient to execute. In today’s modern eating culture, dinner-on-demand is in demand.

Some other realities of our modern dinner culture include the following:

  • Convenience tops the list of needs driving choice at dinner, trumping taste and health
  • Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of items consumed at dinner are sourced outside the weekly main grocery trip
  • Meal simplification (more one-pot dishes and fewer items per occasion)

When evaluating what we are most often consuming at dinner, chicken holds the top main dish spot, followed by beef. The third spot goes to vegetable dishes, which are also the fastest-growing main dish item. The inclusion of side dishes at dinner has held steady over the past two years. Top side dishes at dinner include vegetable dishes, salad, potatoes and rice.

Three-quarters of dinner main dish items (74 per cent) are prepared and cooked in 20 minutes or less, denoting that consumers opt for items that are easy and efficient to prepare with ingredients available on-hand.

In this on-demand dinner era, food manufacturers and retailers should seek to create dinner options that are targeted to spontaneous and unplanned occurrences, affirming convenience, ease and share-ability. Talk to consumers about time in terms of minutes and ease of preparation, while ensuring that recipes are created with ingredients that are most likely on-hand. Finally, ensure that the message is how these solutions are suitable to easily meeting varying individuals’ needs with a focus on unifying Canadians by bringing them together for dinner.

About the author:

Kathy Perrotta is Vice-President of Marketing with Ipsos Canada and leads the FIVE service. FIVE is a daily diary tracking of what individuals ate and drank yesterday across all categories/brands, occasions and venues together with capturing attitudes, meal preparation, situational dynamics and general beliefs that influence choice. The FIVE study tracks the behaviour of 20,000 individuals annually.

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