Table for One?

If your most recent meal was enjoyed (or simply consumed) in the company of “me, myself, and I”, then you’re not alone. The typical American adult is averaging 7.4 meals alone every week. There’s ongoing and increasing discussion around the pros and cons of this shifting reality. Regardless of its broader social and health impacts, there are a number of observations within this trend that glean a better understanding of consumers, behavioral tendencies and their changing need states.

The thing is, people are quite enjoying their solo eating occasions. In fact, 68% of Americans look forward to eating a meal alone and it’s not strictly for emotional OR rational reasons. The top three benefits to eating alone are: it is more relaxing (50%), busy schedules (44%) and a desire to save money (38%).1 Nearly a third of people say it is strictly for personal pleasure – and many of these consumers are millennials. So, if more people are eating on their own for a myriad of reasons, how do we know what they’re looking for in their experience with food to make the most of the occasion?

When it comes to the primary rational reason – household challenges like schedules – food companies have already begun to create solutions for the rising solo eater. Creating meals and snacks that are portioned for one, that pack a punch when it comes to nutrients (think: high in protein for satiety), that are portable, and a flavor experience that delivers more than the infamous frozen TV dinner. 

(Chipotle inspired)

Aside from product innovations to meet the changing consumer need states, is perhaps a bigger opportunity for food and beverage companies. There are obviously underlying implications of a society that shares significantly less meals together. We know that historically, relationships and communities have revolved around breaking bread. The startling thing to me about all these solo eaters is that two in three of them say they don’t actually feel like they’re eating alone….when they’re scrolling through their phones. And at or during 6 of their 6 solo meals they are in fact doing just that1. So, is there a way and a role that food companies can play in understanding this dynamic, and fostering a little more connection at consumption time? At the very least, it’s potentially a “way in” to add more than a functional solution to an occasion that is clearly about more than simply “getting nutrients in”.

1 Byron, Ellen. Wall Street Journal. Eating Alone Loses It’s Stigma. October 2019.

Nutrition: All About Me

Personalized nutrition is gaining momentum as informative tests and tools become more readily accessible. We touched on this topic last year and from what we can tell, the attention it receives reflects the estimated projected growth to over $17B in the next 4 years.1 I recently embarked on my own initial screening: the simple, quick, painless process provided some pretty helpful insights that are shaping the way I structure my plate.

“Personalizing is in our DNA” – we have come to expect the flexibility to request things exactly as we like them.1 Whether it’s the specific way our coffee is prepared or Christmas cards that showcase the highlights of the past year of life, it’s hardly seen as a “perk”.

WHY IS IT HAPPENING?

The Hartman group hypothesizes that America’s hyper-personalized eating culture “is a way of resisting the standardization and homogeneity of modern life by imbuing a sense of fun and premiumization”. While this may sound like a theoretical stretch, the plethora of products and services that allow consumers to tinker with health optimization are an indication of the 80% of consumers who believe their emotional and mental well-being is just as important as physical health. And, it seems that more of us are looking for ways to tailor our intake to our gaps. Take Four Sigmatic for example – they make superfood drinking mushrooms to address a range of “transformative magic” for consumers to choose from.

SO, HOW DOES IT WORK?

Personalizing dietary choices based on genetics is certainly “next level” but becoming increasingly accessible. I heard Yi Sherry Zhang speak to how they approach testing at GenoPalate (“eat for your genes”), and she broke down their approach in an…approachable format.

My own experience was pretty simple – in less than two minutes, a nutritionist trimmed a few strands of my hair and had me swipe the inside of my mouth with a Qtip. From those samples, I had a comprehensive report on: vitamin deficiencies, a scan of exposure to molds and parasites, a review of my system’s performances (think: respiratory, nervous system, blood, cardio, endocrine, immune).

SO….WHAT?

This is most certainly a momentum that is continuing down the path of more: personalization, information, interest, access and questions. Consumers on the forefront of this trend will look to food and beverage products to solve for specific needs they identify to improve their overall health and wellness.

1 Foodscape, Datassential, 2018.

2 Hartman Group. Food Culture Forecast. 2018

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

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