Slow cookers have been around for over four decades but increasing interest in freshly prepared meals has made them the hot — so to speak — new appliance, says The NPD Group, a global information company. Consumers are either dusting off the slow cooker in their pantry since 81 percent of homes already own the appliance or buying new ones. In the 12 months ending June 2015, 12.6 million slow cookers were sold and dollar sales reached $334.1 million, up 4 percent from same period year ago, according to NPD’s Consumer Tracking Service.

Consumers’ dual interest in freshly prepared foods and convenience is a key reason for the increasing use of slow cookers. In 1985 about 9 percent of households used a slow cooker in a typical two-week period, but that figure is now about 18 percent, or twice as many as 30 years ago, finds NPD. NPD forecasts that the consumption of fresh meals and snacks in addition to convenient food preparation will continue to grow over the next several years and along with that will be the increasing use of slow cookers, according to NPD’s The Future of Eating report.

“Consumers continue to demonstrate their interest in home-cooked meals, their willingness to pay for convenience in creating them, and their propensity to pay more for a premium product,” said Lora Morsovillo, president of NPD Group’s Home division. “More slow cookers have sold each year for the past three years, and the consumer spend on them has consistently grown at an even faster pace, indicating some consumer trade-up. Growth has slowed a bit this year, but that is to be expected after last year’s significant bump, especially for a category that has been around for generations.”

“Since our forecasts expect consumers to continue using slow cookers more often, marketers should let consumers know how their products help spice up or flavor dishes as consumers reach for appliances such as the slow cooker,” says Darren Seifer, NPD Group’s food and beverage industry analyst. “Be sure to position yourself as either fresh or the perfect accompaniment to fresh foods.”