Cooking Sauces

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Perceptions of Homemade Meals

Americans have a large preference for homemade meals over prepared food options, and widely view home-cooking as more affordable, healthier and valuable for promoting family time. While definitions of home-cooking have evolved over time, it appears that US consumers are increasingly viewing homemade as including a variety of options, such as meal kits or food that uses some convenience ingredients.

Overall Preference

  • A preponderance of recent consumer studies (e.g., ReportLinker, Peapod, NPD) report that Americans largely prefer homemade meals over prepared food.
  • Most recently, ReportLinker's 2020 survey of US consumers found that 98% of Americans prefer preparing meals at home to other dining options.
  • Corroborating this finding, Peapod reported that 77% of US consumers would rather eat homemade food than go out to dinner.
  • In particular, Pro Money Savings reported that the large majority (79%) of teenagers in the US prefer homemade meals to alternatives such as fast food.
  • Meanwhile, this preference for home-cooking has translated to many US consumers making meals at home, with NPD reporting in 2018 that 80% of meals are now made at home in America.

Perceived Affordability

  • The latest consumer surveys also consistently indicate that the perceived affordability of homemade meals is the primary driver of the decision to cook at home in the US.
  • For example, Peapod found that over three-fourths (77%) of Americans view homemade cooking as more affordable, and prepare meals at home to realize these cost savings.
  • Similarly, Pro Money Savings reported that 72% of US consumers make homemade meals to save money, while ReportLinker added that many Americans see home-cooking as a lower cost option.
  • Notably, Pro Money Savings noted that the perceived affordability of homemade meals in the US is substantiated by the average serving price of meals, given that the average serving of a home-cooked meal in the US is $4.31 compared with an average serving price in restaurants of $20.37.

Perceived Health Benefits

  • In parallel, US consumers also generally view homemade meals as healthier, and also frequently choose home-cooking to enjoy these perceived health benefits.
  • Notably, Food Industry Executive reported in 2019 that "homemade" is the first association that US consumers have with health food.
  • As a result, Peapod adds that approximately half (51%) of US consumers choose to make homemade meals because they view home-cooking as healthier.
  • Corroborating these finding, Pro Money Savings found that 52% of Americans prefer home-cooking as a way to eat healthier, while ReportLinker added that the "desire for healthy fare" is the second biggest reason US consumers cook at home.
  • Once again, Pro Money Savings noted that the perceived health benefits of homemade food are validated by research, which indicates that home-cooking lowers an American's chance of having an overweight BMI by 28%, and that children eat twice as many calories when eating out.

Perceived Value for Family Time

  • Lastly, another significant association that consumers make with homemade cooking its advantages for the family.
  • For example, Peapod found that 41% of US consumers associate home-cooking with "quality time" with the family, adding that this association is particularly strong for Millennials (48%).
  • ReportLinker validates the significance of family time for home cooks, adding that 12% of Americans who spend between 31 minutes and an hour to prepare a meal do so because the view home cooking as the "best way to gather the family together."

Definition of Homemade

  • Meanwhile, industry experts (e.g., Mintel, NPD, Acosta Sales and Marketing) suggest that Americans' definition of homemade food has evolved over time.
  • For example, in 2015, NPD found that US consumers defined homemade cooking based on four criteria: (1) made from scratch, (2) made at home, (3), made from fresh ingredients and (4) made personally.
  • Notably, dishes that used a meal kit or other prepped item were considered "doctored" rather than home-cooked.
  • However, that same year, Acosta Sales and Marketing forecast that cooking from scratch was "being replaced" by "hybrid homemade meals" in consumers' definition of home-cooking.
  • Corroborating this prediction, the NPD found in a more recent (2018) study of US consumers that younger generations of Americans were increasingly defining homemade to include as "taking something already prepared" and "doctoring it up."
  • In particular, the use of fresh food and associated food prep involvement became the more important factors than making a meal from scratch when defining a meal as home-cooked.
  • Moreover, Mintel added that male consumers were increasingly willing to qualify meals heated in a microwave or toaster oven as home-cooked.
  • Overall, NPD forecast that blended meals and other more lenient definitions of homemade will become increasingly common and more often perceived as home-cooked in the next five years.
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Specialty Foods for Special Occasions

Although data related to how American home cooks use specialty foods is not publicly available, research suggests that US consumers as a whole primarily purchase specialty foods for everyday meals, rather than for special occasions.

Overall Findings

  • The latest available data from Mintel (2018) indicates that Americans generally purchase specialty ingredients for personal enjoyment, including for taste, quality, an "ethnic experience" and "peace of mind."
  • Corroborating this analysis, a 2016 survey by the Statistia Research Department similarly found that the "majority" of specialty food shoppers purchase these items for personal reasons; specifically to try new things, enjoy a new food experience or benefit from higher-quality ingredients.
  • In particular, Statista's research found that the majority of Americans (55%) purchase specialty foods in order to "treat themselves," rather than to celebrate a special event or impress guests.
  • In parallel, separate studies by the Specialty Food Association from 2009, 2016 and 2017 consistently found that US consumers primarily purchase specialty foods as a personal treat (61%).
  • Additionally, the Specialty Food Association reported that US consumers enjoy specialty foods primarily for everyday use (36%) and increasingly buy these food types for personal reasons such as diet/health and adventure.
  • Meanwhile, 2009 and 2019 consumer surveys by the Specialty Food Associations also found that specialty occasions remain a significant factor in the purchase and use of specialty ingredients in the country.
  • Specifically, these surveys reported that between 34% and 36% of Americans purchase specialty foods for special occasions, such as dinner parties, birthdays and holidays.
  • As such, it appears reasonable to conclude that specialty occasions represent a meaningful, if not the primary, driver behind specialty food use in America.

Differences by Generation

  • Notably, research indicates that the occasions or reasons why US consumers purchase specialty foods may vary by generation.
  • For example, the latest data from CEIntelligence indicates that younger generations are "more likely" than older adults to buy specialty food products as a "personal, special treat."
  • Corroborating this finding, the Specialty Food Association found in 2016 that American Millennials and Gen Xers primarily purchase specialty foods for "everyday meals or snacking."
  • However, the Specialty Food Association adds that Generation X is more likely to use specialty foods for daily "meals and treat," while Millennials have a greater tendency to purchase specialty foods to "share with others" as part of parties and to impress guests.
  • Ultimately, however, it appears evident that the trend toward purchasing specialty foods primarily for everyday occasions will only increase, given that younger generations represent the largest customer segment for specialty foods, and will increasingly represent the majority of the American population.

Research Strategy

An extensive review of credible media sources (e.g., Progressive Grocer), industry reports (e.g., IBS World) and US consumer surveys (e.g., Statista Research Department) were unable to identify information related to the occasions or reasons why home cooks purchase specialty foods. This is likely due to the highly specific nature of this request, which is looking for information not only related to a specific segment of the food industry, but the preferences and behaviors of a specific customer segment within this sub-industry.

Several additional strategies were attempted to ascertain this information, including a review of media releases, fact sheets and research conducted by specialty food associations (e.g., Specialty Food Association). While these additional research strategies did not provide insight into how home cooks use specialty foods, these additional research sources revealed relevant information about specialty food purchase decisions for Americans overall and by generation. In addition, slightly dated information was also identified and considered relevant to demonstrate trends over time.

Ultimately, this exhaustive research process located relevant information regarding the occasions and reasons that Americans overall purchase specialty foods. As such, an analysis of these findings is provided within the above summary.