The following originally appeared in  The Shelby Report Online on August 15, 2018. 

By Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute
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We all want to eat well, but the concept means different things to different people. For some, eating well is all about the taste of the food; for others, it means consuming products of high nutritional value; and still for a growing number, eating well means knowing the food was sustainably and ethically produced. For most it is a fluctuating combination of all these factors. While the nuances of eating well may significantly vary with the individual, there is one universal truth for all aspiring to eat well. To eat well, one must first shop well; and we all need assistance in both endeavors.

Our annual exploration in to the behavior of U.S. grocery shoppers this year demonstrates that the consumer’s definition of eating well is a personalized combination of meeting his or her needs, pleasures and values. While food retailers are naturally aligned as partners to help their customers achieve their eating well and shopping well goals, the demands for personalization can feel daunting. There is one area that is simultaneously very personal while also being universal, and that is the desire for the family meal. Any food retailers who want a sure-fire way of providing shoppers personalized help in achieving their eating well goals should join Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) efforts in encouraging the personal, community and national benefits of the family meal.

Nearly nine in 10 shoppers consider sharing family meals at home to be important, but they have varying degrees of conviction regarding that positive practice: 24 percent consider it somewhat important; 35 percent think it is very important; and 27 percent deem family meals extremely important. FMI Foundation and the food retail industry created National Family Meals Month in response to the desire for families to return to the dinner table for more meals together. Retailers, suppliers and service providers are encouraging families to enjoy one more meal per week together—breakfast, lunch or dinner. Among those most deeply concerned about family meals—voting them to be very or extremely important—women outscored men 63 percent to 59 percent. Millennials lead the generation charge, with 67 percent reporting meals at home with family to be very or extremely important.

Differing schedules represent the most overwhelming obstacle to more meals shared at home for nearly half of U.S. grocery shoppers, demonstrating a significant foodservice opportunity for grocers. In fact, our analysis suggests an overwhelming desire for more ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat items. Other top obstacles to family meals expressed by survey respondents include not enough energy (22 percent), lack of time (19 percent) and too many distractions (18 percent) for family meals to be a priority. Meal solutions that give your customers the gift of time and time together demonstrate empathy for those trying to achieve the emotional balance, increased connections and 24 percent increases in healthy food consumption that come with three or more family meals each week.

The family meals month movement marks its fourth year this September; food retailers and their product supplier partners continue to explore incredible strategies that leverage social media, in-store communication, paid advertising, collaborations, employee engagement and FMI Foundation-provided marketing collateral, as well as implementing new and innovative ideas. These are celebrated each year with our Gold Plate Awards.

I invite all of us to commit to having more meals together at home this September, and as you prepare promotions for this important endeavor, put yourselves in the shoes of your customers to help them find solace in your stores when faced with the time-crunches, the exhaustion and the distractions that are preventing them from achieving more meals at home with family, no matter how the family is comprised. There is power in family meals, and the food retailer holds the tools to help their customers both eat—and shop—well.