CHICAGO ? Take-out prepared meals, particularly at dinner, appear to be the solution for time-strapped Americans, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company. Restaurants continue to be the primary provider of take-out meals. But as more consumers eat dinner at home, supermarkets and other retail outlets have become an increasingly important source of prepared foods and take-out meals, NPD’s food market research relays.

“There was a strong demand for convenient, take-out meals in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, especially with the large influx of women entering the workforce then,” said Ann Hanson, executive director of product at The NPD Group. “Restaurants met that demand. However, the number of women entering the labor force is no longer growing, and supper meals eaten at home have been increasing. As a result, visits to restaurants for supper have not grown in this decade, with demand particularly weak over the past three years. We’re also seeing stronger demand for prepared foods from retail outlets.”

Approximately two-thirds of prepared foods purchased at retail are from traditional supermarkets, according to NPD’s DeliTrack, which tracks deli-prepared food purchases.

Consumers choose supermarkets for prepared foods over quick-service restaurants (Q.S.R.) because of convenience, a recent NPD survey relays. They add they choose supermarkets because of good prices, variety and healthier choices. Q.S.R. restaurants are chosen over food stores because consumers say they and/or their kids like it there, it satisfies a craving and they want a treat or a specific menu item. Consumers add they also visit Q.S.R. restaurants because it has take-out, a drive-thru or delivery.

Tracking in-home eating behaviors for 30 years and foodservice usage for over 30 years, NPD projects the need for prepared meals and foods will continue growing over the next decade.

“There is a huge opportunity in take-out meals and prepared foods for both supermarkets and restaurants,” Ms. Hanson said. “Consumers are not going to wake up tomorrow with more time on their hands and the urge to cook. In the end, it will be about meeting the consumer’s need for convenience, whether it’s a restaurant or a supermarket.”