How can grocers help ease home cooking fatigue?

Photo: @pascu.anaimaria via Twenty20
Sep 14, 2020
Tom Ryan

Forty percent of consumers consider “planning different meals every day” among the biggest challenges they face when meal planning, according to Acosta’s “COVID-19: Reinventing How America Eats” study.

That was second only to “grocery shopping because of the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in public,” cited by 45 percent. The third and fourth greatest meal planning challenges were cited as “lacking a food/ingredient needed to make a meal,” 38 percent; and “improving cooking skills,” 17 percent.

Confirming the ongoing home cooking boom, 55 percent agreed they’re cooking at home more often since the pandemic began.

Kitchen love, however, hasn’t enraptured all. While 35 percent of Acosta’s respondents have found a new passion for cooking, a quarter are sick of having to cook more.

In a recent survey commissioned by Sun Basket, the meal kit service, 55 percent said cooking during COVID-19 has left them feeling fatigued.

The survey of 2,000 Americans found:

  • Respondents cook an average of nine times a week, and they’ve eaten the same meal 28 times on average since the pandemic started;
  • Sixty-nine percent wish they could make a healthy dinner more quickly;
  • Fifty-three percent are eating more takeout to get a break from making dinner every night and due to a lack of fresh ingredients;
  • The most fatiguing aspects of cooking were found to be prep work, cited by 46 percent; clean up, 43 percent; planning meals for the week, 42 percent; cooking, 35 percent; and collecting ingredients, 34 percent.

FreshDirect last week said it was expanding its “meal shacks,” or easy planning solutions, to address home cooking challenges. “As a dad and former chef, I understand firsthand how families now need to provide more meals on the table, which can add stress during an already uncertain time,” said David McInerney, FreshDirect’s CEO, in a statement.

In an article for the New Jersey Herald exploring home cooking burnout, Sarah Curran, a registered dietitian with Rutgers Cooperative Extension wrote that including all family members in the meal planning process, repurposing leftovers, relying on convenient ingredients and “putting a fun spin on it all can help you begin to overcome COVID meal fatigue.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What steps can grocers take to remedy home cooking fatigue and ensure home cooking trends remain favorable post-pandemic? Should grocers ramp up prepared meal options or encourage home meal preparation despite the complaints?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Prepared meal options and meal kits are great ways for grocers to bring some new life to home cooking."
"The biggest pain points of meal planning, prep and clean up can be remedied through a creative in-store focus on meal kits as a supplement to ready-to-take prepared foods."
"It is easy to have home cooking fatigue when your access to different food choices are continually minimized by OOSs on the grocer’s shelf."

Join the Discussion!

20 Comments on "How can grocers help ease home cooking fatigue?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
David Naumann
David Naumann
CEO and President, Cogent Creative Consulting
7 months 22 hours ago

The easiest way for grocers to combat cooking fatigue is to offer a wide variety of prepared meals or meal kits and offer a wide variety of options that include a lot of new meals every week. In addition, many grocers offer customers online recipes to inspire new cooking ideas. Making the suggested recipes simple and fast will make them more approachable for consumers and will help spur incremental purchases and enhance customer loyalty.

Neil Saunders

I have said this so many times before, but most U.S. grocers are really poor when it comes to prepared meal ranges! There are some exceptions, like Trader Joe’s and Wegmans – and notably both of those retailers do fantastic trade in their prepared meal selections. Other U.S. grocers should look to ramp up their own offers as COVID-19 is accelerating the size of the opportunity. The best template for prepared meals is Marks & Spencer, which pioneered the ready-meal concept years ago and remains the benchmark for innovation and quality.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Two thoughts – I’ve always been down on meal kits as an expensive alternative to making a meal yourself. Perhaps it’s time for meal kits or partial kits (i.e., you add the protein) to push harder. Also, what’s wrong with taking some of your ad space, retailers, and printing weekly menu ideas (or daily ideas)? Keep it simple, keep it inexpensive, but with lots of variety. Don’t appear to be appealing to overly healthy alternatives – you’ll turn people off (but don’t promote junk either).

Richard Hernandez

A lot of people learned to cook during the early days of pandemic and enjoyed it – for a while.
The best thing that grocers can do right now is to offer meal kits and a great assortment of prepared meals either made in house or in cooperation with local restaurants (H-E-B was one of the first retailers to do this).

Kathleen Fischer

Prepared meal options and meal kits are great ways for grocers to bring some new life to home cooking. Grocers can offer ways to make it fun and interesting while also delicious by offering prepared meals in picnic baskets or theme meals such as Italian, Indian, or Thai with the appropriate drinks, utensils, and napkins!

Jeff Weidauer

Most grocers have lost sight of the fact that their business is food. Everyone has to eat but not everyone enjoys the cooking process, and cleanup is always a chore. Grocers need to consider all the facets of the meal along with the varied skills and desires of customers. Meal kits, meal planning, cooking videos; all can be used to provide information and new ideas. Don’t forget to add an element of entertainment through gamification and social media. It’s not hard to do, but will take commitment. Mostly it will require acknowledgement of being in the food business.

Dave Bruno

In addition to expanding their meal kits offerings, I would suggest that retailers get more involved in the meal planning process by adding more choices to the meal kits. Publish interesting and innovative menus and recipes that reflect local ingredients, and make it easy to identify additional ingredients customers need when having these kits ordered and delivered.

Ralph Jacobson

Although I don’t find any of these survey results alarming, grocers can definitely feature prepped meals a lot more than most are currently. Keeping the impulse factor strong for this category will help grocers capitalize on any opportunity here. It seems obvious, but I don’t see it happening much.

Brandon Rael

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge of grocery sales and record revenues. While everything but essential businesses were shut down, grocery stores along with pharmacies were struggling to keep up with the surging demands. Consumer behaviors have shifted, and the home has become the center of our universe.

However while there was an initial surge in consumers wanting to bake and create new and interesting dishes, there is an element of fatigue that is setting in.

Now is the prime opportunity for grocery stores to follow the Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, H-E-B, and the Whole Foods model, and offer premium and organic prepared foods and meal kits. This would require transforming the grocery store operating model, de-investing in the center store packaged items, and reinvesting on perimeter services, all of which have been outlined in this article.

Jeff Hall

The biggest pain points of meal planning, prep and clean up can be quickly remedied through a creative in-store focus on meal kits as a supplement to ready-to-take prepared foods.

I subscribe to a national meal kit delivery service for our dinner twice weekly. If my local grocer offered an interesting and rotating variety of quick-prep oven ready dinners, or ready to heat meals, they’d have me as a more frequent customer. It would be great to stop by, choose that night’s meal, and be on my way; plus I like the idea of reducing the wasteful packing and shipping materials associated with the national meal kit service.

Lisa Goller

Variety and time savings can help grocers make cooking a pleasure and compete against booming food delivery.

Grocery assortment variety includes:

  • Meal kits and prepared grab-and-go meals;
  • Healthy options and comfort food;
  • Slow cooker options and fast heat-and-serve meals;
  • Adapting to diverse needs like vegan, gluten-free or low-carb.

To boost repeat purchases, grocers need to keep these convenient formats easy and fast, and offer fresh, quality ingredients.

Colorful, inspirational communications can give grocers an edge at this busy time of year. Grocers can offer a week’s worth of tasty recipes and meal planning templates for free. Loblaws’ newsletter thrived by celebrating the chain’s exotic, exclusive private labels that made cooking exciting.

Offering subscriptions can make meal kits a weekly habit that could last beyond the pandemic.

Bindu Gupta

From personal experience, this trend is spot on. Cooking fatigue is real and figuring out what to make every day is not fun especially when you have to cater to different dietary needs. One opportunity for grocers is to consider providing meal kits and recipes. If I am able to “add to cart” all the ingredients I need to make a certain recipe that is featured on the grocer’s website as per the number of servings, that helps take the fatigue out of menu planning a bit.

Liz Crawford

Traditional grocery may need to morph into more of a “grocerant” type retailer. Even if the seating area is closed for now, the array of precooked foods is extensive and assembling a meal from one’s favorites is easy. This means building out the deli section extensively and offering new types of food. This looks less like pre-fab kits and more like gourmet-style grab and go, a la regional players like Chef’s Table, Eatsy, et. al.

Casey Golden
7 months 20 hours ago

Editing food the way we edit outfits in fashion could significantly improve personal meal planning. Shopping by recipes and looking at past purchase history for ingredients that should be in your fridge/cupboard would drive loyalty. I’d like to see more recommendation engines that are built by dinner goals and household size. No one is really doing a great job making my grocery shopping more effective vs. convenient. Yummly really understands my food preferences and suggests great recipes but the integration to shopping is terrible. There is a lot of low hanging fruit here, pun intended.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Most families do not know what they will be having for dinner as late as 4 p.m. on any given day. The key to success for retailers is to expand the offerings to easy, nutritious and tasty meal solutions. This will require the rethinking and re-engineering of grocery meals to go. The rotisserie chicken travels well. However many other prepared meals do not. Communicate a week’s worth of choices, so consumers know what they are eating tonight as well as the rest of the week. Make it easy to order and pick up delicious meals that will obviate the need for most in-home preparation.

Kai Clarke

Grocers need to go back to basics to ease home cooking fatigue. Out-of-stocks are a huge problem during this pandemic, and grocers would do well to offer multiple alternatives to their best sellers on the shelf. OOSs are the 3 worst words in retail, and grocers have ignored this as they focus on other less important issues. It is easy to have home cooking fatigue when your access to different food choices are continually minimized by OOSs on the grocer’s shelf.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Along with prepared meals/meal kits, grocers should get creative to help consumers with meal solutions when so many are homebodies. Be creative — pick a weekly theme or ingredient. Team with local brands, farmers, chefs and feature products. Offer several different Recipes with pre-prepared ingredients. Have a contest and publish top recipes. Use weekly circulars (and in-store merchandising) more creatively — group cross-department items together into solutions/recipes.

Organize stores by solution, not category.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
7 months 17 hours ago

Given the cooking fatigue so many are experiencing, I believe there is an opportunity for grocers, especially with the massive increase in online orders, to offer their own take on meal kits. Grocers could offer meal plans for a week with all required groceries on just a few clicks and then have the order ready for curbside pickup. I don’t think grocers need to do all the prep work and package everything nice and neatly ready to cook — they just need their in-store pickers (or Instacart shopper) to choose those items needed and fulfill the order as they normally would with those items. Customers could have an option online to “deselect” items they think they have in sufficient quantity at home with each order so they’re not buying too much. I know many people in my neighborhood who would jump at such an offer over and above any “standard” meal kit services.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Grocery collects a LOT of data on what their shoppers buy. Some even try to offer personalized coupons. Along with those coupons some recipe suggestions for items shoppers normally buy could be very helpful. Kits are all prepackaged and that doesn’t work for everyone, but recipes based upon what people purchase could be very helpful.

Brett Busconi

Prepared grocery lists based on meal selections. You walk in (or browse online) and select 5 meals for the week based on suggestions they offer. Next is a provided grocery list you need to fill in order to prepare those 5 meals, including where in the store to find each item.

Meal kits are obvious. I feel like the grocery list build-out is less so and would be great differentiation in assisting shoppers to move quickly through the process.

"Prepared meal options and meal kits are great ways for grocers to bring some new life to home cooking."
"The biggest pain points of meal planning, prep and clean up can be remedied through a creative in-store focus on meal kits as a supplement to ready-to-take prepared foods."
"It is easy to have home cooking fatigue when your access to different food choices are continually minimized by OOSs on the grocer’s shelf."

Take Our Instant Poll

How effectively have grocers been delivering meal planning solutions to their customers during the pandemic?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...