This is the 11th of Havas PR’s “11 Trends for 2016.”
Anybody interested in cooking now has a lifetime’s worth of great ideas and inspiring examples to choose from—“America’s Test Kitchen,” “The Chew,” and dedicated TV channels such as Food Network and Cooking Channel are just a few examples. The nation’s appetite for cooking is also richly catered to by thousands of websites and blogs providing tips for even the most offbeat tastes (recipes for squirrel or armadillo, anyone?).And for old-school types who like their recipes printed on paper, the selection of cookbooks has grown by almost 9,000 in the past three months alone. It would be tempting to conclude that home cooking in the United States is going from strength to strength. It’s certainly true that Americans are eating at home more and eating out less. Whether that means more cooking, however, depends on how you define cooking.
Most of the cooking in the media involves preparing food from fruit, vegetables and other raw ingredients that have been sold in farmers markets since forever. But a growing proportion of the activity in American kitchens involves warming up ready-to-eat meals and precooked ingredients. Cooking 21st-century-style is increasingly about selecting and assembling ingredients into meals, rather than preparing everything from scratch. Assembling is the choice for people who want to feel involved in preparing the food but are happy to pay a company to do a lot of the work.
Related is the trend we spotted for 2012 that said this: “The healthy snack category will be healthy not only in its offerings but also in sales. By 2015, packaged snack sales are slated to approach $77 billion. Look for packaged baby carrots, and low-fat chips and salsa or hummus, to be huge for those looking to slim down.” Nielsen reported $124 billion in North American snack food sales in late 2014 and substantial numbers of respondents who care about snacks with all-natural ingredients and those sourced sustainably and locally. The constant stream of new healthy snacking products and the mainstreaming of gluten-free eating today are among the proof points that “I am what I eat”—whether that food is made from scratch or not—is entirely relevant.
Traditionalists are alarmed at the prospect of ever fewer Americans taking the time, or practicing the skills, to put a meal together properly. Nutritionists reckon that more home cooking is the route to better health and less obesity because people who often “cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less,” according to a Johns Hopkins study. But whatever “cook more” arguments are mustered, the reasons driving the “cook less” trend are irresistible: time pressure, tiredness, decline in cooking skills and the easy availability of alternatives. As Time editor Bill Saporito put it, “The reason my wife and I don’t cook our food is the same reason that we don’t hunt our food. These skills are no longer required to sidestep starvation.” And let’s face it, watching people cook on TV or on YouTube is entertainment, whereas cooking a meal and cleaning up afterward feel like work.
Within a generation or less, for many consumers, preparing meals from fresh raw ingredients will seem as old-fashioned and unnecessary as killing and plucking a chicken for dinner seems today. At every level, from mass-produced and machine-harvested to farm-fresh and handpicked, the market for easy-cook and no-cook ingredients will keep rising.