Consumers to continue at-home dining: survey

by Bryan Salvage
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OMAHA, NEB. — A new survey released in May by ConAgra Foods shows that despite the ease in economic conditions, Americans won’t soon let go of their new habits. Although many experts claim the recession is over, four-in-five Americans (79%) say they do not feel like it is and seven-in-10 (71%) say they will continue the savings habits they developed during the economic downturn.

According to survey results, the recession continues to impact the way people shop for and prepare food, and even as tough times subside, consumers find their new frugal habits hard to break. And of those who made changes to their food shopping or preparation habits, most of those changes will continue into the coming year.

During 2009, 75% of Americans have cooked more meals at home and they say they will continue to do so. Two-thirds (68%) say cooking has brought their family together and three-in-five (61%) say they enjoy cooking more. Four-in-five (79%) say they will continue to focus on saving by using coupons, store specials or a budget, and two-thirds (63%) will continue to cut back on premium purchases.

Two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed say they have enjoyed becoming more of a bargain hunter. Half (49%) of those already making cutbacks will freeze more meals, and two-in-five (38%) will continue to stretch meals. About one-third of consumers have sought to save money by stretching out meals with water or canned foods, or by buying more frozen or prepared meals.

"Consumers are saying loud and clear that the effects of the recession are lingering," said Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru, in collaboration with ConAgra Foods. "Over the past 20 months, shoppers are heading back to shopping lists and looking for real value. When they are in the store, they are shopping in more locations, especially in the center of the store. Many are turning to canned or prepared products, which can offer both cost savings and convenience for those who are cooking and eating at home more."

While economics drove many consumers into their kitchens, a newfound love of cooking may keep them there post recession. Half of Americans (52%) say they expect to cook more in the coming year than they did last year, and among younger consumers, the trend is even stronger. Seventy-two percent of those in the 18-34 age range say they will cook more.

Seventy-one percent of younger Americans have started cooking new dishes, although 59% say they don't always know what they're doing and that they'd like to be better cooks. Still, they enjoy cooking more so than the general population — 75% compared to 61%, according to the survey.

One reason may be that younger consumers believe cooking increases quality family time. Eighty-one percent say cooking is bringing their family together, compared to just 68% of the general population.
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