“People are crazy about home cooking,” and are heading back to the kitchen in record numbers, Nancy Hopkins, senior deputy food editor at Better Homes & Gardens, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Citing data from the magazine’s Food Factor Study, which polled more than 2,000 women about their cooking and food shopping habits, Hopkins said a whopping 79% of respondents said they typically eat dinner at home five or more nights a week.
“That’s so much,” Hopkins exclaimed.
She hypothesized that many women likely returned to their kitchens during the recession as a way to save money, but now nearly a decade later they are still cooking at home because they “discovered that it is fun to cook and eat with the family at home.”
Indeed, the survey found 80% of women say cooking is an important part of family traditions and 74% say it’s a critical part of how they entertain.
“Cooking at home used to be drudgery, but another surprising finding from the study is how many women now view it as an adventure. It is no longer just a means to an end, but it is how we express our creativity,” she said.
Specifically, the study found more than two-thirds of women in the US say cooking is a creative outlet form them and almost 75% regularly experiment and cook new dishes at home.
New and global flavors in demand
More than three-quarters of women surveyed said they are always looking for new flavors, many of which are coming from regions and ethnicities and cultures far from the US, according to the study.
“We are dabbling in many, many cuisines,” with the No. 1 most common being Italian, followed by Mexican, which could be expected, Hopkins said. But, she added, not so far down the list are more exotic places, such as Turkey and North Africa.
The study found 63% of women like to experiment with regional and ethnic foods, with ingredients like kimchi, tahini and cotija becoming pantry staples for adventurous eaters.
“The doorway to many new cuisines is often through a condiment,” such as harissa or a Thai paste that women can try on other familiar ingredients and easily customize the amount to their tastes, Hopkins said.
She also attributed American women’s interest in international flavors to the rise of fish tacos and noodle bowls. She explained that both took a familiar and versatile platform to introduce new ingredients and flavor profiles.
Manufacturers also can use this strategy to introduce consumers to new flavors or products by pairing them with much-loved and familiar foods, Hopkins said.
Another strategy to boost new produce sales is to show consumers how to customize a food by providing different recipe options, cooking techniques or allowing them to combine some of the elements or add ingredients from their kitchen to make a meal solution, Hopkins said.
Women also will more likely try a new ingredient or food if the manufacturer shows them that it is a kid-friendly product and something the entire family will enjoy, Hopkins said.
And, of course, she said providing coupons is a good way to drive initial trial given that a major reason women cook at home is to control costs.
Healthy foods on the rise
Another reason women are eating at home more is because they want to eat healthier, which is easier to do when they can control the ingredients, including sodium, sugar, fat and total calories, Hopkins said.
The survey found 59% of women say they are eating healthier than a few years ago and 86% said they try to control the healthfulness of the meals they prepare.
An additional 42% said they want to eat more healthy – meaning more fresh ingredients and extra veggies, according to the survey.
Manufacturers already are capitalizing on this trend by calling out the calories in each serving, along with the fiber and nutrient content.
More adventure to come
Looking forward, Hopkins predicts many of these trends will continue to develop and grow.
“We expect farmers markets will be more popular” in the coming years as they allow consumers to buy fresh, local ingredients direct from the grower, which consumers are then excited to prepare at home.
She added that as consumers become more confident in the kitchen and more comfortable with flavors from new cuisines “global flavors will become even more popular.”