By Sue Wilkinson, Senior Director, Information Service & Research, FMI

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Cooking brings me joy! At least that was the case until the pandemic struck. One would think that the absence of an hour-long commute at the end of the workday would make me even more excited to cook dinner. Nope. At the end of the day, I am exhausted with no appetite for food or the time it takes to cook dinner. Cooking on a weeknight looks different than cooking on a weekend or for a special occasion, and perhaps because every day seems like the same day these days, I have lost my mojo.

My circumstance is not entirely unusual. According to the 2020 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report, in mid-May, 23% of shoppers said their priority when cooking is to spend as little time as possible doing it (up from 16% in late March). And in mid-May, 33% say they seek “something interesting” to eat when they cook at home indicating a fatigue with the cooking process.

Cooking Pre-COVID-19

In normal, non-pandemic times, the largest portion of consumers liked (24%) or loved (18%) cooking, while a quarter (24%) would prefer to avoid it and a third (34%) were ambivalent to the task. Nonetheless, home cooking is an important goal, and in February 2020, 58% found it very or extremely important to eat at home together with their family or household.

Cook at Home or Outsource?

Consumers see cooking at home healthier than eating out. When deciding between the two options (in times when both are available), considerations of cost (47%), time and effort (35%) and taste and cravings (43%) tend to have more influence over the decision. Over half (57%) of households outsource cooking to foodservice and dine out at least once a week, with 21% doing so three or more times. However, 39% of consumers said in mid-May they expect to eat out less often once the pandemic is over, compared to before it began.

Challenge for Retailers

The COVID-19 environment presents retailers with the opportunity to help consumers plan for more at home eating occasions ranging from those driven by convenience to those driven by exploration beyond the level of the household’s cooking skills. The challenge for retailers is identifying the right balance of strategies targeting occasions when food is outsourced versus opportunities to help consumers plan and shop for home cooking.

I’m with that 39% of consumers who expect to eat out less often once the pandemic is over, which will require me to put some serious effort into finding that joy of cooking that disappeared as quickly as the pandemic struck. At least there is a place to start! The Family Meals Movement is compiling creative cooking resources during COVID-19 to help families share more meals together.

Download 2020 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report