The COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated Americans’ shift to a home-centric lifestyle, according to a new report by The NPD Group.
But the tendency to largely hunker down at home was already apparent prior to the pandemic, the report indicated, due to changes in the workforce and an aging population.
Though stats from the National Restaurant Association showed restaurant sales were on the rise earlier this year, it appears the majority of meals will likely be eaten at home in the foreseeable future.
LONG-TERM TRENDS TO INFLUENCE CONSUMER EATING PATTERNS
“Our life stage and workplace behavior has a lot to do with how, where, and when we consume foods and beverages, and what we buy to help us prepare our meals,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of the Eating Patterns in America report, in a press release. “These factors transcend the crisis of the moment or boom time economy that might replace it and will continue to influence behaviors over the long-term.”
Some notable stats from NPD’s report include:
- 100 million persons aged 16 and over don’t participate in the labor force, according to U.S. government statistics (that number increased 17% over the past decade).
- Only 56% of working-aged women participate in the labor force, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the lowest rate in more than 30 years).
Those factors, plus the fact an increasing segment of the U.S. population is aging, have a significant impact on many consumer behaviors, such as the correlation between higher rates of working women and restaurant usage. Additionally, as consumers age, there is a noteworthy effect on many of their eating behaviors, including a lower annual restaurant meals per capita, according to NPD’s 2021 Eating Patterns in America report.
Portalatin says providing in-home meal solutions will be the “sweet spot” for retailers, restaurant operators, and supply chain partners.
IMPACT ON AWAY-FROM-HOME MEALS
Prior to the pandemic, the lower labor participation rate and aging population had already been impacting at- and away-from-home meals. In 2014, U.S. consumers sourced 82% of their meals from home—increasing to 83% in 2019.
Throughout the pandemic, meals sourced from home rose to 86%. Recently, as vaccinations became readily available and restrictions (at least momentarily) eased, restaurants have seen some relief as consumers returned to dining out.
However, Americans living in high-risk COVID states are starting to shy away from restaurants as the Delta variant rapidly spreads across the country. During the week of Aug 1-7, restaurant reservations on OpenTable fell 20% below the same point in 2019 in five high risk states, a big reversal from July when reservations in the same states were 10% above 2019 levels.
“The current conventional wisdom is that we will be using our homes less once the pandemic is over. The reality is we were using our homes more before the pandemic than we did in the past,” said Portalatin. “Home is where we eat most of our meals, whether we prepare them or a restaurant does.”