Prepared Foods October 18, 2004 enewsletter

Americans are showing signs of finding balance in their eating habits. The NPD Group's 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America finds Americans are not snacking more, are not using more restaurant take-out meals, are becoming more calorie conscious and are finally getting their weight under control.

"It appears that Americans are beginning to find a balance between the need for convenient, inexpensive meals and their expanding waistlines," said Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group. "It makes sense that people are finding a balance as we try to get control of our weight in this country," said Balzer.

In the new report, 27% of people say they are conscious of the calories in their meals, the highest level since 1999. In addition, the number of snack meals eaten per person per year was 250 for the year ending February 2004, little changed from five years ago, when it was 253. Perhaps the most interesting news from NPD's latest report is that the percent of overweight Americans held at 62% for the second year in a row. Up until 2002, the percent of Americans classified as overweight had increased every year since NPD began tracking it in 1995.

"We knew at some point this trend toward obesity would end, we just didn't know when. But remember, we haven't seen people begin to lose weight just yet," said Balzer. "However, this is a good sign," he said.

Another highlight of this year's report is the changing role of women in the workforce and its possible impact on today's eating patterns. After pouring into the workforce for 50 years, labor force participation rates among women have leveled off and are starting to slowly decline.

Balzer, who has been tracking America's eating patterns for 25 years, says that this demographic shift has had a major influence on our eating patterns.

"Women have always been the gatekeeper of families' eating habits, and it appears that a balance is being found after years of wrestling with work and feeding the family," said Balzer.

As part of these developments, the latest report shows a stabilization of meals eaten at home and a decrease in meals eaten at restaurants. The 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America compiles data from more than 40 NPD databases. The findings are based on 12 months of data collected through February 2004. The report finds 77% of meals come from home, little changed from the previous year. Although the restaurant industry shows recent signs of recovery, the average American ate out more in 1985 than last year. People sat down for a meal at a restaurant 83 times per person last year, compared to 95 meals per person in 1985. The increase in restaurant take-out meals also has leveled off after growing for more than a decade. Americans consumed take-out meals from restaurants 117 times per person last year, the same as the year before.

Some other key findings from the 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America:

-- Americans are saying once again that they want full and regular meals. Some 55% of people feel it is important to eat full and regular meals versus 52% two years ago.

-- The side dish is disappearing from the American dinner table. Some 45% of dinners did not include a side dish, the highest level since 1990.

-- "Fresh" matters to Americans, 55% of Americans say it is important for food to be fresh.

-- Grill usage has reached a new high. Of all households, 31% use a grill on a regular basis, up from 25% in 1994.

-- Once again, Americans are becoming concerned about sugar in their diets. Some 22% of Americans are concerned about sugar, up from 20% in 2003.