Eating Alone Is a Food Marketers’ Hidden Opportunity

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Eating alone is fast becoming the new normal, representing 46 percent of all adult eating occasions. This is up from 44 percent in 2010, according to an analysis by global research provider The Hartman Group.

The Hartman Group’s investigation of American eating trends revealed that the way in which many consumers define a “meal” has transformed from traditional, sit-down “meat and potatoes with the family,” into a constantly shifting assortment of snacking and eating alone occasions.

In just the past few years, Hartman’s ethnographers, working within households across America, have witnessed the developing habit among consumers to eat alone even when dining with others — much of this brought about by mobile technology proliferation. Many companies continue to market to traditional family occasions, though, and are missing out on the emerging possibilities concealed within the eating alone occasion, according to the research.

The rise of eating alone has been fed by a number of trends, including:

  • Transitions within households post-World War II. The decades after WWII saw the movement of mothers into the workforce, the rise of single-parent households and the influence of technology, all of which compromised traditional family meals.
  • Losing focus during the past 50 years on the importance of dining communally during specific meal occasions. Consider the now nearly-forgotten practice of workers and school children returning home midday for family lunches or the increasingly rare “family dinner.”
  • Movement away from a focus on taking time to consume foods. In modern culture, many meal occasions, especially those that are solitary, are now characterized by the mechanics of eating and not the celebration of food occasions. An example is the now-pervasive practice of Americans eating alone at their desks while they work.
  • The snackification of meals. America is now a snacking culture where eating any time of day is commonplace. Many consumers believe eating smaller meals more frequently is healthier and that snacking bridges gaps between meals.

With eating alone becoming the norm, consumers are seeking ways in which to celebrate it. Food to go, portable foods and premium “snacks” can be crafted together to form an entire meal for one, The Hartman Group noted.

More than half of eating alone occasions take place in the home. Food retailers have the opportunity to develop single-portion-oriented baked, prepared and refrigerated stations that enable shoppers assembling meals-for-one to mix and match new tastes and cuisines.

Food retailers can also connect with consumers on these solitary occasions -- both with marketing and product innovation -- by creating new forms of packaging and ingredients that encourage interactivity and a sense of personalization.

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