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Things are far from hot in American kitchens these days. According to a recent study from The NPD Group, many consumers have been eating at home to save money and are opting to microwave meals rather than cook.
The 24th annual “Eating Patterns in America” study showed that consumers “nuked” approximately 30 percent of all at-home meals last year. This marks a 10 percent increase from 2007 totals, which had remained steady at around 20 percent since 1990.
The percentage of consumers actually cooking via stovetop has consistently dropped since the mid-1980s, according to Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y., and author of the report. In 1985, 52 percent of main meals were prepared via stovetop cooking methods, while only 33 percent are today.
“Eating meals at home is something that’s been going on since 2001 … There was no change for 15 years, and all of a sudden it jumps up,” said Balzer. “We’re seeing the oven being used for warming and heating, not cooking and roasting, and the microwave plays that same role … Americans are always going to be looking for easier ways to prepare food.”
According to Phil Lempert, food marketing expert and Progressive Grocer columnist, the trend also has a lot to do with improvement in frozen food packaging, which now allows for foolproof cooking. In particular, he called attention to how brands such as Healthy Choice and Marie Callender have embraced innovations in steaming technology.
He noted that food retailers can easily take advantage of the growing at-home eating trend “by just making sure that they’re are stocking in the freezer cases the latest technology when it comes to the freezer packaging … Retailers who are sampling, who are really showing people how great this is, are the ones that are going to do fabulously in sales.”