On food habits: We are what we eat
Consumers’ behaviour and habits in food consumption are deeply changing, especially in the Italian market and especially today because of the current economic crisis.
The well-rooted concept of the classic three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is declining in popularity since people most often prefer to take more breaks during the day, allowing themselves a snack: they eat less food but several times a day.
As shown by the case study “Survey about single dishes” (G&G Associated) in fact, meal structure has totally changed: eating has become a matter of feeding ourselves but quickly, dedicating proper time and space during the day only to one meal.
Dinner has become the main meal, and only on Saturdays and Sundays, people maintain the tradition with more dishes during the same meal.
The majority of the population chooses traditional food, less expensive: more and more often, the decision about food shopping is to cut the usual grocery shopping in order to save money.
In the last decades, there has actually been a strong fall in grocery shopping, which is due to a combination of factors such as lower salaries and changing consumer behaviour. The main reasons behind this are connected to the growth of new needs: more affordable prices, promotions and time saving products that become the top priorities in general, but especially in food consumption.
Most often, people put in their trolley bread and cereals, sweet food and white meat (white meat is preferred to red meat, because of its lower price, but also because of health issues). At the same time, we see a negative performance of milk, cheese and eggs. A recent survey, conducted by Ismea analysed the food purchase variation in more detail, confirming that products like cereals and its derivatives have grown in volume (+1,2%) and price (+2,3%), and in contrast dairy products have fallen slightly both in volume (-2,2%) and price (-3,8%).
Moreover, gluten free food is growing in popularity, because of the increased incidence of food intolerances such as celiac disease. As a result, bread is leaving its previous important space to new products containing cereals or their derivatives, which are tolerated instead.
As far as where food is consumed, where people eat, during the week usually lunchtime is a time spent outside home, whereas dinner is consumed at home. This scenario is reversed during the weekend and dinner becomes a social event to be spent outside and enjoyed with family and friends.
What can we expect in the next years? Probably meals will be about an “outside habit” a trend that is not driven by a healthier way to eat, but due to the need to eat outside during the week and to spend less and less time cooking.
In fact, people consume ready meals, frozen food or whatever takes the least time possible to prepare, as confirmed by the exploratory research “Spinach” (G&G Associated) focused on the microwave role, which has largely become the most time saving tool in the kitchen. From this research it is clear how microwave cooking wins considerable approval: for its speed and convenience, as a simple food heater or in defrost mode.
All these events are the result and reflection of the impact of the economy on social habits, on lifestyle, and, in our case, on food habits and food related issues. This leads to a strong standardization of food turned into a standardization of taste itself, which brings to more of a growing food distrust.
It is really interesting to underline how 70% of the Italian population aims to consume the daily proper quantity of fruit and vegetables, but it is also important to highlight that the majority of the population does not know what the daily recommended intake actually is (the 5 per day). This low awareness about the “5-a-day” leads to an overestimate of the real quantity. However, as the research “Survey about vegetables dishes” (G&G Associated) highlights, the key role of fruit and vegetables is growing, thanks to the special attention people pay to their good nutritional values and healthy properties.
After all, “living a good life” seems to be one the main rules for Italians (32% of the population will be above 65 y.o. in 2025): consumption habits, also within the food environment, are no longer just symbols of socio-economic status but they represent a whole system of cultural values. New sensibilities open the way to bio products, no ogm, organic food (A Research on Nutritional Styles, G&G).
Nicoletta Giacomi is associate director of G&G, a market research institute based in Rome, providing field and full service in several industry areas, mainly focused, among others, on healthcare, food, energy.