What Are Americans Eating?

Jun 05, 2003

By Al

At the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) convention, just
held in Las Vegas, Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD consulting group,
presented results from the research firm’s 17th annual “Eating Patterns
in America” study.

Some findings are surprising. For example, of the top ten fastest growing restaurants in the U.S. the top two (1. Panera Bread, 2. Krispy Kreme) significantly focus on carbohydrates, at a time when the low-carb Atkins-style diets are the rage.

When the Top 10 is examined closely (10. Appleby’s, 9. Chick-Fil-A, 8. Macaroni Grill, 7. Panda Express, 6. Starbucks, 5. Culvers, 4. Quizno’s, 3. Charley’s) at least two things are clear.

  1. The “Fast Casual” format is winning with operators catering more than they have in the past to diners in a hurry.

  2. Americans are tiring of burgers. NPD’s consumer diaries show that in 1988, 27 percent of all lunch meals included a burger, while in 2001, that percentage was down to 23 percent. Even so, burgers are still the number one item ordered out by males, and number two for females.

Many in the audience assumed that the number one item ordered out for women would be a salad. In fact, it is french fries. Numbers two through five for women are burgers, Mexican items, pizza, and side salads, in that order.

For men, numbers two through five are french fries, Mexican, pizza, and seafood.

Jack in the Box (inventor of the drive through) offers 12 varieties of burgers on its menu. Only two are more popular with women than men. Mr. Balzer noted women like burgers, but prefer them small and with interesting spices or add-ons. He suggested chains would do well to improve their burger offerings for women.

While the obvious trend in recent years has been eating out, NPD says that 76 percent of all meals are still prepared at home, down from 79 percent in 1996. While foodservice is replacing the meal prepared at home, it is doing so slowly, and the at home meal still represents huge business.

Also of note is that 74 percent of all restaurant meals are purchased at fast-food operations, versus about 25 percent for mid-scale restaurants and casual dining outlets.

Only 1.2 percent of all restaurant meals are “fine dining”. One might think that number would be a lot higher, but Mr. Balzer noted that people talk about their fine dining experiences, but not about fast food meals. That same principle may hold true for why women order french fries so often, but we hear more about salads.

Believe it or not, 42 percent of all lunches are eaten and prepared at home, with another 11 percent carried from home.

The top ten lunch items served at home are:

10. potatoes
9. salads
8. tea
7. salty snacks
6. soup
5. vegetables
4. fruit
3. milk
2. soft drinks
1. sandwiches.

The list hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years (soft drinks have grown more popular, and the ham sandwich has always reigned supreme).

A number of statistics were cited about the obesity epidemic, such as the number of states with 15 percent of their populations at health risk from obesity rising from 4 to 49 in ten years, starting in 1991, even with the sliding scale being eased three times.

Also, 62 percent of Americans would like to lose 20 pounds now, versus 54 percent in 1985. Amusingly, 55 percent of Americans agreed in 1985 with the statement “People who are not overweight look a lot more attractive.” In 2002, only 25 percent agreed, suggesting we are adjusting our idea of what looks attractive to bring our opinions more in line with our waist-lines.

Moderator’s Comment: What are the top trends in eating
out and eating at home today? What are their implications for grocery retailers
and foodservice operators?

Al’s top 5 trends:

  1. People eat a lot more than they say they do, and want
    large portions whether they admit it or not.

  2. Consumers want food that is relatively inexpensive,
    tastes good, and sounds more exotic than it is.

  3. Burgers and fries are still big.

  4. Everyone wants/needs to save a buck, accounting for
    the popularity of “dollar menus”, combo meals, and “biggie” sizes. These deals
    aren’t going away.

  5. The basics still sell — i.e. warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts,
    Subway sandwiches, and Culver’s (fifth-fastest growing restaurant) signature
    Butter Burger. [George
    Anderson – Moderator

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