We eat alone half the time, says NPD Group

Snacks are eaten alone more than 70% of the time, which is unsurprising given that between-meal eating typically occurs when consumers are away from home or on the go, NPD Group says.

More than half of eating and drinking occasions now occur when consumers are alone, as US consumption behavior has become more individualized compared to previous generations, according to market research firm The NPD Group. 

Consumers are alone 60% of the time at breakfast, which NPD market research says is driven by a range of factors beyond simply being away from home, including time constraints and routine. Fifty-five percent of lunch meals are solitary occasions where “quick and easy” is the driving need, and, once again, many consumers are away from home. Snacks are eaten alone more than 70% of the time, which is unsurprising given that between-meal eating typically occurs when consumers are away from home or on the go, NPD Group says. Dinner is the least likely meal occasion to be eaten alone (32%), as nearly half of all families with kids eat dinner together at least five times a week, NPD found.

A big factor the growing incidence of solo dining is that 27% of all households now consist of just one person—the highest level in US history, according to the US Census Bureau. But it’s not just about young people starting families later, says NPD Group food and beverage analyst Darren Seifer.

One thing that we know is that there are more people living in solo homes, partly driven by younger generations like Millennials delaying marriage and formation of families, but also with aging boomer population, unfortunately now there are likely more widows and widowers dining alone,” Seifer told FoodNavigator-USA. “That’s probably the main driving force behind these numbers.”

While manufacturers have already jumped on the growing tendency toward convenience and portable nutrition with a slew of launches under this umbrella, Seifer said product placement is just as important.

“It’s not just enough that you are a portable item and that you have a lot of convenience factors related to the product. You need to make sure your product is placed where consumers are going,” he said. “In the morning, people are on the go and commuting, so there’s not only a lot of need for convenience, but ask does your product have the right mix of fresh taste while being able to be consumed in a car, on a train or at a desk?”

Indeed, marketers should be asking themselves about whether their target market is in a big city or in suburbia, eating alone early in the day or snacking, as all can impact consumer need, he added.  

And for those who don’t necessarily want to buy something on the way or are looking for more value, multiple servings per pack is a key piece to appealing to the solo dining market.

“Consumers want value, too—it’s not just about being a convenient single serve option. Multiple serve options mean they don’t have to buy something on the way if they don’t want to,” Seifer said. “Companies that are fitting that mold, where they’re providing multiple single serve options that are portable and convenient can really capitalize on this market.”

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