A new report from The Hartman Group explores the shifts in U.S. food culture, including an increase in snacking, eating on-the-go and eating alone.
"This cultural shift puts a new burden on U.S. food companies to create products that are fresh and healthy enough to eat regularly, plus tasty and interesting enough to compete with a host of restaurants, taco trucks, coffee shops and other food venues," CEO Laurie Demeritt said in a news release. "To fully understand what consumers want, it is important to study the cultural forces underpinning what and how they eat."
For example, the report cites busy lifestyles as the main driver for an increase in snacking, which now represents half of all eating occasions.
According to the report, titled " Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors," there are several key drivers for snacking:
- 73 percent of snacking is physically driven: That includes 44 percent hunger abatement plus 15 percent nutritional support and 12 percent bursts of energy to combat lethargy.
- 36 percent of snacking is emotionally driven: That includes 23 percent "time markers" to create structure in the day, plus 13 percent boredom alleviation and 6 percent reward, encouragement or temporary alleviation of discipline.
- 28 percent of snacking is socially or culturally driven, including people bonding around food without committing to a full meal and those discovering new cuisines and flavors.
The percentages don't add to 100, because there is overlap, the release said. However, they do not overlap with aimless snacking, which represents 27 percent of all snacking, driven by the constant availability of food and beverages.
Eating alone is on the rise, too. Nearly half (47 percent) of all eating occasions now take place with a single person eating alone, many of whom live in multi-person households.
Finally, there is an increase in "immediate consumption," an occasion that goes beyond restaurant meals to include food bought on the go — and often eaten at home. This occasion stems from a variety of changes in lifestyle and values including: the diffusion of food management within families, less food planning because of busy schedules as well as individuals — including children — wanting to customize their own meals. The result is people grabbing whatever looks good just before they eat it.