My research into American food buying habits yielded many interesting insights. An underlying trend that came up were those who didn’t shop for convenience and variety. What this showed is that there’s a behavioral shift happening with the American family as  they begin to cook at home again. While numerous studies indicate that in the past decade, Americans haven’t been able to be bothered with at-home food preparation, cultural and socioeconomic influences on U.S. lifestyles show that consumers are heading back to the kitchen in order to meet their need for personal connection to friends and family, saving money and developing better eating habits.

In 2010, 55% of grocery shoppers prepared more meals at home, while in 2015, that number dropped to 40% due to more people buying high-end pre-prepared meals. In 2014, the average American cook spent 5.9 hours prepping food per week. Of those cooking at home, 37% said they loved to do so and 32% felt they had the knowledge and expertise necessary to prepare great meals for themselves or their families.(2) In 2015, cooking responsibilities began to fall to men, with 40% of men cooking and 26% of families sharing the responsibility.(1)

Making Meals More Affordable

More Americans starting to cook at home is primarily driven by financial reasons across all income brackets. In 2014, a North Carolina State University sociology study found that for many Americans, the ability to save money and achieve dietary diversity outweigh the “inconveniences’ of meal prep time (5).  For low to middle income families, the shaky economy has forced them to prepare as much food at home as possible. There are currently 17.5 million food insecure households relying on federal or food pantry assistance (6), and the ability to feed their families has led 78% of low to middle income families to cook and eat dinner at home five or more nights a week. (7) Making food affordable is a strategy that is leveraged by Trade Joe’s. 85% of Trader Joe’s goods are private label (11). By offering healthy, low cost food options that shoppers can’t find anywhere else, the grocer is able to appeal to a wide audience of customers while competing with Sprouts and Whole Foods.wholefoods-2

Making Meals Healthier

The old adage, “we are what we eat,” play a key role in Americans eating at home. More and more, consumers want to control what is on their plates and what is going into their bodies.  In a study conducted by Share Our Strength as part of their Cooking Matters program, the organization found that 85% of low to middle income families also said that food prices were the most significant barriers to healthier cooking (8). In 2013, Harvard School of Public Health found that by adding $1.50 more a day to their food allowances would enable families facing financial hardships to eat a healthy diet versus an unhealthy diet. That adds up to about $45 per month or $550 a year (10).

In accordance with spending less and creating healthier lifestyles, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that in 2010, Americans started consuming 118 calories less per day. “The good news is that we’re getting healthier, the bad news is that we’re poorer,” said Harry Balzer, a food analyst with NPD Group, who noted that median U.S. household income remained flat in 2012 from 2011(14). Thus the American need for health and savings is being balanced by returning the kitchen.

Meals Time Is Communal

As Americans work more, they’ve begun to look for areas where they can slow down. Meal preparation falls into holstee-1this category. From the slow food movement to the celebration of regional cuisines that focus on local and farm-raised foods, 67% of Americans have begun spending more time at home with their families and 44% have entertained friends at home instead of going out. (3) As humans, we are wired so our well-being depends on our mental connections to others (4), thus being able to commune over meals helps us achieve this need. “Connection is important, food is something to be enjoyed,” says says Holstee founder Michael Radparvar. Communal Food is what inspired our monthly potluck dinners, our food rules collection and the reason we decided to print this WWI poster on how to enjoy food.”

Know Your Ingredients

Amongst middle to upper income families, food allergies and new dietary guidelines have become key factors to cooking at home. In 2014, 28% of shoppers looked for foods that were minimally processed, 26% looked for ingredients they knew and 25% looked for locally grown goods (13).  “You want to know how and where your food was grown,” says documentary filmmaker, Greg Bendoni. “As an at-home chief, I’m able to know that the salmon I’m cooking was wild caught versus farm raised; I’m able to ensure gluten didn’t contaminate my meal. I can trust my own kitchen better than I can trust any restaurant.”

From organically grown produce to humanely raised animals, consumers are actively tracing the origins of their food. In 2015, the trend of buying locally produced and wanting to understand product cycles of food will continue. “People also seem to be interested in getting closer to raw ingredients and eating food that is in season,” says John and Emily Benbow, founders of Food at 52. Consumers shopping at farmer’s markets will continue to increase though the local food market is leveling off.  A great example of appealing to consumer desire to understand where their food comes from is Whole Foods’ “Values Matter” campaign. The brand campaign highlights the company’s groundbreaking quality standards, healthy offerings and key milestones as a pioneer in the natural and organic food industry. By communicating the company’s deeper purpose and its history of celebrating food and the people who produce it, the multichannel advertising initiative demonstrates the values of “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store.”

Insights and Opportunities

So how can organizations leverage these needs to create better marketing strategies for their consumers? By financing education programs, leveraging do-it-yourself concepts and offering activations hold great value to consumers. For example, if we want Americans to continue to develop healthy eating habits, let’s teach them how to cook. In doing so, we’re providing tools they can use to meet their time and budgetary needs.

“One important reason so many are not cooking is because we simply don’t know how. For the moment, let’s leave aside the stuff of celebrity chef competitions and Instagram,” says food writer Kim O’Donnel. “Cooking in an everyday context means boiling water for potatoes, carrots, pasta or rice. It means washing and drying lettuce to make a salad,” she adds. (15) If want organizations wanted to use classes and how-to as an engagement tool, the opportunities education with new meal components are enormous. For example, on a typical weekday:  57% of meal preparers serve a meat/poultry or seafood entrée; 43% a rice, potato, stuffing or pasta side dish; 42% a vegetable side dish; 24% bread, biscuits or rolls; 20% a green salad; and 15% dessert (17). Providing recipes based on their current eating patterns would be valuable to the cook.

Also, by leveraging in-person cooking demonstration, store events, how-to videos, do-it-yourself preparation guides and visual tools like Instagram, Pinterest, infographics and downloadable resources, marketers and organizations can meet American food consumers’ needs.  For lower income families, access and education to affordable healthy food options is also necessary. In 2014, the U.S. Government put $100 million in SNAP benefits to encourage recipients to buy fresh fruit and vegetables (18). “This program helps families buy healthy food from their local farmers markets, which also helps family farmers and boosts the economy,” says Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was instrumental in introducing the plan. (19) Working with local neighborhood organizations and farmer’s markets to make better choices locally available will help families with limited money and transportation resources able to lead healthier lives.


  1. Grocery Shopping Trends, 2010 – 2014. Food Marketing Institute, 2010 – 2014.
  2. Global Cooking Habits Study, GFK, March 2015.
  3. Grocery Shopping Trends, 2010 – 2014. Food Marketing Institute, 2010 – 2014.
  4. Why We Are Wired To Connect, Scientific American. October 2013.
  5. The Joy of Cooking, North Carolina State University, Summer 2014.
  6. U.S. grocery shopper trends 2014. The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.
  7. Food Insecurity In The U.S., U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2013.
  8. Wait, So People Are Cooking? New York Times, 2012.
  9. Low-Income Families Cook Dinner at Home Five Nights a Week, Aspire to Eat Healthy, Cooking Matters, 2012.
  10. Eating Healthy vs. Eating Unhealthy Costs $1.50 Per Day. Harvard School of Public Health, December 2013.
  11. Why Are Trade Joe’s More Profitable Than Whole Foods? Business Insider, January 2015.
  12. Grocery Shopping Trends Infographic, 2010 – 2014. Food Marketing Institute, 2010 – 2014. .
  13. Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? That Might Be Good For Farmers, NPR, February 2015.
  14. Americans’ Eating Habits Take a Healthier Turn, Study Finds, Wall St. Journal, 2014.
  15. How Can We Get America Cooking? One Crumb at a Time, Civil Eats, February 2015.
  16. The Gallup study of Dinner. Gallup, February 2013.
  17. The Gallup study of Dinner. Gallup, February 2013.
  18. How ‘Double Bucks’ For Food Stamps Conquered Capitol Hill, NPR, Nov 2014.
  19. Farm bill contains farmers market program that food advocates for poor see as hopeful, Washington Post, January 2014.

This article was written for and originally appeared in Canvas8 in 2015.