Meals At Home Increase As Netflix Calls

Restaurant sales are up 2% from last year. That’s a good sign the U.S. economy is humming along. Such good news is tempered by the fact traffic at restaurants is down 1.1% this past year, according to data from MillerPulse.

While that may seem counterintuitive, restaurants are charging more for their food which accounts for the increase. It’s inflation, driven by higher costs such as labor, rent and utilities.

Habits of American consumers are changing, thanks to what marketers like to call the digital disruption. The convenience of Netflix, for instance, encourages more Americans to stay home and watch movies rather than go to a movie theater. There are other examples, like meal kits and grocery home delivery, which most of the major retail grocers are implementing.

Those facts make new research by the NPD Group Inc. about at-home meals more understandable. Eighty-two percent of American meals are prepared at home, according to NPD’s finding. That’s more than 10 years ago, and coincides with a long-standing trend. The latest peak in annual restaurant visits occurred in 2000 when the average Amereican dined out 216 times. That figure fell to 185 for the year ended in February, NPD said.

The trend is having an impact on the fast-food industry. Higher prices at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Shake Shack Inc., and others makes home cooking more economical. In fact, the gap between home cooking and eating out is widening as grocers expand their offerings to include meal kits, home delivery and “meal to go” options.

The signals to the beef industry (and other proteins) to be gleaned from the stay-at-home trend is that food products must meet consumers’ heightened expectations. That means quality, taste, nutrition and, more than ever, convenience. Consumers want good and they want fast. Netflix is calling.