WASHINGTON — Forty-six percent of American households are eating out less and spending more at the grocery store, with the perishable department growing at the fastest rate, according to a 2009 Nielsen survey.

The survey points out one key factor fueling supermarket meat and seafood sales was promotions, with 51% of meat and seafood being purchased on sale. Another key factor was prominent circular placement, noted by 41% of shoppers.

Household deli spending for the year ending in September 2009 was $200 — a 5% increase from last year, according to Nielsen. Fresh meat and seafood recorded sales of $437 per year for a 4% gain.

Alternative retail channels are also making a strong push for the growing business. Supercenters succeeded with new perishable formats, growing both the purchase size (up 2% to $11.80) and frequency of perishable purchases (from 18.4 to 18.7 trips per year). This holds true in particular for the meat and seafood departments, where supercenters reported a 0.6 share point change.

All major departments in the deli, where supermarkets hold 50% of the business, posted strong growth. Deli cold cuts and cheese are up 7% and prepared foods are up almost 5% versus one year ago. Some of the hottest selling prepared deli items include turkey entrées, pot pies and chicken salad.

Regarding meal planning, Nielsen discovered more than 1 million viewers watched the Food Network during prime time in 2009 — a 16% increase over full-year 2008. Meal planning is also one of the largest and fastest-growing online activities, with the average browser spending roughly 10 minutes online planning meals.

here for more information on this survey.