What Americans Eat

What Americans Eat

America’s dining habit, shared by Harry Balzer of the NPD Group, recently at a conference I attended. For a guy in the foodservice marketing business, the data Harry shared was extraordinary for putting into perspective the eating habits of today’s consumer.

NPD began asking consumers to document what they eat and drink at home or in a restaurant for 14 days back in the late 1970s. Thus, a comparison of current data from those of a few decades ago can serve as a reality check for food marketers. Here is just a taste of what America eats:

  • In 1978, the most-ordered item in a restaurant was a carbonated soft drink. In 2014, the most-ordered item in a restaurant was…a carbonated soft drink.
  • In 1984, 41% of meals eaten out were consumed at an independent restaurant. Last year, that number was 26% – thus the growth of restaurant chains.
  • Among Millennials (18-34), the fastest-growing eating places for them included five convenience stores of their top 10 fastest growing food destinations.
  • Chipotle was the top restaurant choice for Millennials and Gen X (35-49) consumers. The top choice for Baby Boomers? McDonald’s.
  • What are the fastest growing food items of the last decade? Pizza, up 10% in the last decade is number three, followed by bottled water and Yogurt, up 12%. For those declining the most in consumption during the decade? Gelatin (Jello) tops the list at -4.6%, followed by pot roast, toast and fruit drinks.
  • What is the most-eaten vegetable of 2014, excluding the potato? Topping the list is the onion, followed by tomatoes, lettuce and corn.

Harry also shared some eye-openers on trends that make news headlines. We’ve heard so much about kale. So much so, that you might feel a bit guilty that you haven’t gotten on board the kale train. Take heart, although kale consumption has doubled in 10 years, kale today sees only 2.5% of American’s eating kale once in a two week period.

Lastly, there is a sobering point from NPD on restaurant visits. In 2000, a typical consumer would visit a restaurant for a meal 215 times in a year. In 2014, the number had slipped to 191. Price increases, a sagging economy during the past decade drove consumers back home for their meals, or more snacking away from home.

Balzer summed it up by saying that there is not a lot of significant variation in America’s diet. The sandwich is still the most popular item that we eat, just as it was decades ago. Smart food companies will invest on enhancements to what we already eat. Harry says, “Stick with what is familiar with a consumer’s menu, but add a novel twist that promotes trial.”