Home Cooking and Eating Habits: Global Survey Strategic Analysis

This report focuses largely on the “Eating and Drinking” section of Euromonitor International’s 2011 Annual Study of global consumers, and is enriched by strategic analysis, extensive desk research and illustrated with Euromonitor International market data. The aim is to explore how new trends are impacting home eating and cooking habits.

Eating patterns

  • There has been a general global trend over the last couple of decades towards less structured meal occasions, resulting from such factors as busy lifestyles, more unconventional working hours, a rise in single households and an increase in the number of working women.
  • Eating is now dictated by work and leisure activities rather than taking place at set hours of the day. People are also generally consuming more snacks and light meals, choosing when and what they eat rather than fitting in with others.
  • The survey revealed significant differences in eating patterns according to country. While some countries still have fairly rigid meal structures, such as China, France and Japan, in others, such as Brazil, the UK and the US, meal times are more fragmented.
  • On a global level, lunch was revealed to be the most consistent mealtime of the day, with almost three quarters of respondents eating a meal at 12/1pm.
  • Breakfast and evening meals are more fragmented, but the majority of respondents have a meal at 6/7pm (55%); while 31% eat later, at 8/9pm.
  • Breakfast is split largely between the 6/7am and 8/9am slots, no doubt depending on when people start work or how far they have to travel. Over two thirds of respondents have breakfast at one or other of these times.
  • Chinese and Japanese consumers appear to be the earliest risers. More than half the respondents in Japan and almost two thirds in China have breakfast at 6/7am; while in Germany, the UK and US, 40% or more eat at 8/9am.
  • Indians tend to eat a late lunch and late dinner, but snack at regular intervals during the day. 41% of respondents in this market have lunch at 2/3pm, while 63% have dinner at 8/9pm (and 28% even later).
  • Research shows that snacking has become more common across the world in recent years. According to the survey, consumers in the emerging markets of Brazil, China and India are the most prolific snackers.
  • Other countries tend to have set times for snacking. For example, as many as 41% of UK respondents take their “elevenses” at mid-morning (10/11am), while 46% of French respondents take their goûter at 4/5pm.
  • As they generally tend to have their meals early, half of Chinese respondents were found to take an after dinner snack at 8/9pm, while more than a third of Brazilians have a late night snack at 10/11pm.
  • Research shows that breakfast, which was once a sit-down meal in most countries, is now often eaten hurriedly or “on-the-go”, in the form of snack bars or pastries. In some cases, breakfast is skipped altogether in favour of a mid-morning snack.
  • The tradition of taking a long lunch break to eat a hot meal, at home or in a canteen, is also in decline. More flexible working hours and greater pressure on workers mean that lunch breaks are often significantly reduced or taken at the desk.
  • These trends in breakfast and lunch have led to higher demand in recent years for portable foods sold at convenient locations, benefiting impulse retail channels, kiosks and fast food outlets.
  • The trend towards more flexible and informal eating habits is most evident among the younger, urban consumer groups. This was reflected in survey findings, which found that the youngest age group was most likely to snack more and to eat at unconventional times.
  • Changing eating habits have had a significant impact on the market for sweet and savoury snacks and snack bars. Euromonitor International’s food and drink database shows that their global sales grew in value terms by 37% and 43%, respectively, over the 2006-2011 review period.
  • Growth was fuelled by demand for premium brands with a healthy positioning, and innovation is now focusing on the creation of nutritionally balanced indulgent snacks, such as wholegrain and fruit snacks.
  • Several major snacks manufacturers have already reduced the sodium and fat content of their products, and intend to make further changes over the next few years.

Chart 1 Global: “On a typical day, at what time do you eat meals and snacks?”

On a typical day, at what time do you eat meals and snacks?

Source: Euromonitor International

Eating out versus eating in

  • Euromonitor International’s consumer expenditure data show that, on the whole, people spend a lot more on eating in (ie retail food and drink) than eating out (ie catering). The ratio of per capita spend was 71:29 for these two categories in 2011.
  • Per capita expenditure on eating in also grew at a higher rate than eating out over the five year period between 2006 and 2011, as people attempted to reduce costs during the recession either by staying in (ie “cocooning”) or frequenting less expensive eating establishments.
  • The share of eating out was highest in the UK and US, at 44% and 42%, respectively, and lowest in India, at just 9%. However, consumer foodservice is growing rapidly in the latter market as incomes rise.

Home cooking versus meal solutions

  • It is well documented that factors such as longer working hours, more working women and smaller households mean that consumers are increasingly turning to meal options that are quicker and easier to prepare, such as ready meals, cooking aids and takeaway meals.
  • Despite this, the survey revealed that as many as 55% of respondents worldwide still cook a meal entirely from raw ingredients on a regular basis (ie at least once a week), while 38% do so using some pre-prepared ingredients.
  • The cooking sauces category has benefited from demand both for convenience and for home-cooked meals, as consumers look to combine both elements to achieve what they perceive to be healthier dishes but with minimum preparation time.
  • The survey showed that only around two thirds of respondents in Japan and India regularly prepare their own meals to eat at home, compared with a global average of 81%. As ready meals consumption is not particularly high in these markets, this suggests that consumers often eat out instead, or have their meals prepared for them.
  • The recession and rising unemployment have prompted more consumers to go back to basics with their cooking in recent years, since pre-prepared meals and ingredients command a price premium that many have been unable to afford.
  • Basic foodstuffs have become increasingly expensive, with the prices of commodities such as vegetable oil, cocoa, wheat, corn and rice having risen sharply in recent years. This has led many consumers to grow their own vegetables, in addition to cooking from scratch.
  • Furthermore, while the number of single-person households has increased gradually in recent years, many older couples have seen their adult children move back in with them (the so-called “boomerang children”), making cooking from scratch more viable.
  • Another factor that has come into play is a revival of interest in hobby cooking, inspired by the plethora of cooking programmes on TV. This has driven demand for an array of exotic ingredients, as well as cooking implements and appliances.
  • It can be assumed that the increasing number of consumers who are on special diets (whether by choice or due to food intolerances) are also more likely to cook at home, as this gives them more control over what goes into their meals.
  • It has been reported that in order to save both time and money, more people began taking a packed lunch to work during the recession, fuelling demand for sandwich fillings and other lunchbox items.
  • Nevertheless, the survey shows that fewer than a third of consumers regularly prepare a meal to eat away from home, suggesting that most still find it more convenient to buy lunch or breakfast on the spot. Indians are most likely to prepare a “tiffin” to eat away from home.
  • Ready meals, while they may have made good progress in recent years, are still only purchased regularly by 31% of respondents for their own consumption, while just 16% said they regularly order home delivery or takeaway food to eat at home.
  • China ranked highest both in terms of the share of respondents regularly cooking a meal entirely from raw ingredients (71%) and those using some pre-prepared ingredients (56%).
  • Buying ready meals was also found to be most common in China, where almost half of respondents purchase them regularly for their own consumption, while Brazilians proved most likely to regularly order a home delivery or takeaway for home consumption (25%).
  • It should be noted, however, that the survey was skewed towards more affluent, urban consumers and may not be representative of rural consumers in China, Brazil and India, who typically have lower incomes and little access to packaged foods.
  • Takeaway meals have benefited from the trend towards cocooning. These are cheaper than dining in a restaurant, and allow time-starved consumers to have prepared meals without shopping, cleaning and preparation, or simply have a treat at weekends.

Chart 2 Global: “On average, how often do you:”

On average, how often do you?

Source: Euromonitor International

Reasons for buying ready meals

  • The survey results confirm that the main reason for buying ready meals is convenience, with 45% of those purchasing these products saying they do so because they do not have time to cook.  There was little variation across countries in this respect.
  • Ready meals are not generally considered to be a cheaper option: only 31% of ready meals consumers considered them to be affordable compared with cooking from scratch. However, this was as high as 45% in Japan, indicating that ready meals are better value in this market.
  • In fact, the price of ready meals varies significantly. In the UK, retailers have launched a wide range of tiered options, from low-end to high-end private label, with low-end pizzas being sold for as little as £1 and premium ready meals for as much as £8 or more.
  • It is well documented that many people today lack basic cooking skills, which are not being passed on from mother to child as much as they were in the past. This has been a significant factor in the growth of ready meals and consumer foodservice.
  • Despite this, the survey showed that a surprisingly low percentage of respondents admitted they purchase ready meals due to an inability to cook (11%) or an inability to cook well (21%).
  • A fifth of Indian respondents claimed they do not know how to cook at all, while as many as 43% of Chinese ready meal buyers said they do not cook well. In contrast, only 5% of German and 6% of UK ready meals consumers admitted that they do not know how to cook.
  • The survey results suggest that consumers may be deterred from buying ready meals due to their unhealthy image and lack of flavour compared to home-cooked food. A mere 5% of respondents who buy ready meals said they were healthier than eating from scratch.
  • Only 16% of ready meals buyers think they are tastier than meals cooked from scratch, but this varies significant across countries, from as many as 32% in China to just 4% in Germany.
  • Manufacturers have responded to these concerns in recent years by developing ready meals with fresher ingredients and more nutritious properties, including organic products and dishes with lower salt and/or fat content, as well as “restaurant-style” meal solutions.
  • Despite recording a slight decline by value in 2009 (at year-on-year exchange rates), Euromonitor International’s database shows that the market for ready meals increased by 27% over the 2006-2011 period.
  • The most dynamic category was chilled ready meals, which grew in value by 39%. These products benefit from their fresh image and convenience compared with frozen, canned/preserved and dried varieties, although they have a shorter shelf life.

Chart 3 Global: “Why do you purchase ready meals versus preparing a meal from scratch?”

Why do you purchase ready meals versus preparing a meal from scratch?

Source: Euromonitor International


  • Euromonitor International predicts that eating habits will continue to evolve over the next few years towards less structured meal times, greater use of prepared ingredients and an increase in snacking.
  • The survey confirmed that young people are likely to buy ready meals and consume snack items rather than cook from scratch. While this may be related to their less structured lifestyles at this age, it is also thought to be indicative of a permanent change in behaviour.
  • Meal habits are already far less entrenched than they were, and this will become more pronounced in the future as people eat what they like when they can, mixing and matching rather than conforming to traditional values.
  • Factors such as a further decline in marriage rates, the delaying of families, a higher number of working women and an ageing population will give rise to a growing number of single people, for whom eating will be a more flexible affair than for large families.
  • Further globalisation and the need for increased productivity means that people will work more irregular hours. As flexi-time and home-based work become more commonplace, food will be consumed at increasingly unconventional times.
  • Companies affected by the changes in eating behaviour will range from manufacturers of packaged foods, such as ready meals, snacks and cooking aids, to kitchen appliance manufacturers and foodservice operators.
  • For packaged foods companies, the emphasis will be on portability and ease of preparation, as more food is consumed on the move, in the car or at the computer. Consumers will demand single portions, user-friendly packages and products that can be eaten with minimum mess.
  • At the same time, marketers must cater to growing demand for quality, flavour, nutrition and affordability. Eating habits of the future will to some extent be influenced by a growing desire to protect one’s health, especially in the light of the world’s growing obesity problem.
  • Future consumers are likely to seek to combine health with indulgence by cooking more exotic but healthier meals in the home, and buying healthier snacks and ready meals, such as those based on natural ingredients, with fewer additives, lower sodium content and less trans-fat content.
  • In the burgeoning Chinese market, in particular, several recent scandals regarding the manufacturing processes of snacks will mean that the most successful packaged food products will be those demonstrating their commitment to food safety and health.
  • Convenience foods that contain fortified and functional ingredients, such as calcium to assist bone health, or green tea extracts, will also continue to be popular in markets such as China and Japan, where functional foods have an established consumer base.
  • The foodservice industry will be forced to adapt to the trend towards more unconventional eating patterns and increased snacking, by extending restaurant opening times and offering more diverse food options at different times of the day.
  • There is predicted to be a continuation of two opposing trends with regard to home cooking habits: while consumers will continue to lose basic cooking skills that were once passed on as a matter of course from parent to child, an interest in creative cooking will remain strong.
  • Cooking as a hobby will be fuelled by the growth of international travel, entertaining at home, the internet, TV cookery programmes and the influence of celebrity chefs. However, consumers will continue to be constrained in terms of available time, restricting their ability to cook from scratch regularly.
  • The trend towards internationalisation of eating habits is one that will intensify in the future, as emerging market consumers become more exposed to Western products, and mature market consumers develop a greater taste for more exotic ingredients and meal types.
  • Demand for products that simplify meal preparation will continue to grow, such as cooking sauces, pre-cut vegetables, prepared salads, grated cheese or mixed spices in the packaged food market; and microwave ovens and hand-held appliances within kitchen appliances.
  • However, for the time being, ongoing economic uncertainty and high unemployment means that many consumers are simply unable to afford convenience foods, which carry a higher price premium than basic meal ingredients.