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What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices

What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices



Packaged Facts wanted to know what America eats. To tackle the challenge, we decided to examine the broad trends at play today that influence what, where and how America eats. Using 10-year trending data for consumer attitudes and behaviors, analyses of restaurant menu databases, retail product introductions and proprietary surveys, we present our response in a new report, What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices.

Food retailers and foodservice providers know it’s critical that they adapt to how America eats both at home and on the go. Through our research, Packaged Facts found that three broad consumer behavior trends influence these decisions: snacking and sharing; real food versus processed food; and consumer health, weight, diet and exercise.

Snacking and sharing



We’re a nation of snackers, and the food industry has made structural changes in its distribution and food packaging strategies, as well as launching initiatives, to capitalize on American snacks. What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices examines the data through this snacking lens and aims to:
  • Show how evolving food retail distribution formats are blurring the food retail and foodservice landscapes
  • Provide snacking guest traffic share by restaurant segment, with daypart analysis
  • Assesse snacking within the context of changing consumer eating choices over time
  • Assess the degree meal time patterns incorporate snacking
  • Analyze consumer snacking behaviors during 2004-2014 by demographic.
  • Reveal how leading restaurant operators are leveraging snacking opportunities
  • Identify restaurant innovation snacking menu item trends
  • Explore how packaging and health positioning are shaping the food retail snack opportunity
Real food versus processed food

Foodies may have sounded the cry for “real” food, but this call hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. Consumers of all stripes are looking for alternatives to processed foods (witness the continued growth of organic and natural products), and the food industry is responding in kind. What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices examines the data through this lens, and:
  • Studies consumer attitudes toward processed and real food and their effect on food choice
  • Conceptualizes the meaning and product reach of real food
  • Challenges myths about processed food
  • Trends consumer attitudes toward local & natural foods, cooking, fast food and frozen dinners
  • Assesses real food within the context of changing consumer eating choices during 2004-2014 by demographic
  • Identifies how leading restaurants are leveraging all-natural positioning via education and transparency, and how locally grown takes natural positioning to the next level
  • Explores consumer interest in unprocessed food and its influence on restaurant visits
  • Explores consumer preferences for inherently healthy food at home vs. restaurants
  • Explores the shift toward real food ingredients across major food categories
Consumer health, weight, diet and exercise

Health, weight, diet and exercise are perennial factors influencing our eating habits. Data over the past decade reveals much about how these constants have affected change by the food industry and consumers themselves. What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices examines the data through this lens, and:
  • Trends consumer health, diet & exercise attitudes during 2004-2014 by demographic.
  • Explores the degree of influence low-/no- healthy food terms have on fast food restaurant and at-home food choice
  • Identifies how consumers view their dieting & exercise, why they diet, and which food behaviors they use to lose weight
  • Via BMI analysis, explores the relationship between consumers’ BMI and their food choices, and amount of exercise and their food choices.


  • Executive Summary
    • Report Scope
    • Report summary
      • Snack society blurs lines between retail and foodservice
      • Consumer snacking trends
      • Snacking on the menu
      • Snacking at home
      • Perceptions of "real" vs. processed food
      • Consumer trends over time
      • On the menu
      • At home
      • Consumer health, diet, weight and exercise
      • Dieting behaviors, motivations and food choices
      • BMI and food choices
      • Exercise and food choices
  • Snacking and Sharing
    • Outlook
    • Snack society blurs lines between retail and foodservice
      • C-stores leverage, well, convenience, to meet evolving consumer needs
        • Table Trip Planning, Timing and Participants: Supermarkets v. Convenience Stores, 2012
      • 7-Eleven targets portability & portion control and adds some healthful products
      • Large-format retailers experiment with express formats
      • A new generation of vending
      • Micro markets
      • Foodservice at grocery
      • Whole Foods Market
      • The Fresh Market
      • Mariano's
      • Snacking at restaurants generates significant traffic
        • Table Restaurant Usage and Mean Monthly Use in the Past Month, by Daypart and Restaurant Type, 2014
      • Beverages can be snacks, too
        • Table Jamba Juice Food and Beverage Menu Share, by Menu Item Type, 2013
    • Snacking trends over time
      • Table Consumer Snacking Behaviors, Agree a Lot & Any Agree, 2004-2014
      • Demographic analysis
        • Table Consumer Snacking Behaviors, Agree a Lot & Any Agree, by Demographic, 2004 vs. 2014
      • Snacking in context
      • Meal time patterns incorporate snacking
    • On the menu
      • Restaurant operators leverage snacking opportunities
      • Late night menu
      • Motivation for trying smaller plates
      • Restaurant innovation snacking trends
      • Mini
      • It's all in a bite
      • Sliders still rule
      • Sampler platters
      • Sharing
    • At home
      • Packaging is key to the snack opportunity
      • Portion-controlled snacking
      • Going mini allows indulgent foods snack positioning
      • On-the-go formats
      • Health positioning makes snackers feel good about their choice
      • Real food ingredients
      • Natural or organic positioning
      • Nutritional snacking
      • Saving the world, one healthy snack at a time
      • The hybrid: restaurant brands at retail
  • Perceptions of "Real" vs. Processed Food
    • Outlook
      • Cast as the villain: processed food
      • The Question of GMOs
      • Nutrition labeling and education to aide consumer decisions
      • Industry initiatives
      • Cast as the hero: Real food
      • Clean eating
      • Local is the watchword
      • Green practices
      • Slowing down helps keep it "real"
      • Natural, organic, hormone-free…oh my!
      • Definitions, please
      • Does meat industry clarity translate to increased usage? At what cost?
      • Another take on natural-but does it help?
    • Consumer trends over time
      • Table Consumer Attitudes toward Local & Natural Foods, Cooking, Fast Food and Frozen Dinners, 2004-2014
      • Demographic analysis
      • Home cooking and fresh ingredients
        • Table Consumer Attitudes: Cooking Enjoyment & Fresh Cooking Ingredients, by Demographic, 2004 vs. 2014
      • Frozen but "real"?
        • Table Consumer Attitudes: Frozen Dinner Nutritional Value & Eating Frequency, by Demographic, 2004 vs. 2014
      • Natural and organic-cost sensitivity still influences choices
        • Table Consumer Attitudes: Natural Foods & Artificial Additives, by Demographic, 2008 vs. 2014
      • Fast food losing some grip on consumer lifestyle-but perhaps the term itself is to blame
        • Table Consumer Attitudes: Fast Food Lifestyle and Preference over Home Cooking, by Demographic, 2006 vs. 2014
      • "Real" food in context
    • On the menu
      • Education and transparency with all-natural positioning
      • Locally grown takes natural positioning to the next level
      • Interest in unprocessed foods and influence on restaurant visits
        • Table Unprocessed Foods Interest: Correlation to Restaurant Visits, by Restaurant Segment and Daypart, 2014
    • At home
      • The rise of real food: natural, organic, wholesome food products
      • Brands are getting more exposure under national distribution
      • Private label helps make organic/natural affordable
      • The shift toward real food ingredients across food categories
      • Frozen food aisle: something's different
      • Yogurt goes Greek
      • Snack and nutrition bars
      • Consumers continue to show preference for inherently healthy food at home
        • Table Inherently Healthy Food Terms: Degree of Influence on Food Choice: On-the-Go at Fast Food Restaurant vs. At Home, 2014
      • HH food usage trending shows shift toward real food
        • Table Household Usage: Butter, Butter/Not Margarine, Margarine, Margarine/Not Butter, 2004-2014
      • Natural cheese, please
        • Table Household Usage: American Cheese, American Cheese/Not Natural Cheese, Natural Cheese, Natural Cheese/Not American Cheese, 2004-2014
  • Health, Diet, Weight and Exercise
    • Outlook
    • Trends over time
      • Table Consumer Health, Diet & Exercise Attitudes, Agree a Lot & Any Agree, 2004-2014
      • Demographic analysis
        • Table Consumers Who Consider Diet to be Very Healthy: Agree a Lot & Any Agree, by Demographic, 2004 vs. 2014
      • Eating healthier & counting calories
        • Table Consumers Who Try to Eat Healthier & Who Count Calories: Agree a Lot & Any Agree, by Demographic, 2004 vs. 2014
      • Exercising
        • Table Consumers Who Exercise Regularly: Agree a Lot & Any Agree, by Demographic, 2004 vs. 2014
      • Healthy food: away from home versus at home
        • Table Low-/No- Healthy Food Terms: Degree of Influence on Food Choice: On-the-Go at Fast Food Restaurant vs. At Home, 2014
    • Dieting behaviors, motivations and food choices
      • Dieting & exercise self-assessment
      • Reasons for watching what we eat and for dieting
      • Food behaviors used to lose weight
    • BMI and food choices
      • We're overweight, at least according to our BMI
        • Table Packaged Facts Survey Respondents: Height, Weight and BMI, 2014
      • BMI not tied to food choices
        • Table BMI Comparison, by Food Choice and Adult Height, 2014
    • Exercise and food choices
      • Table Packaged Facts Survey Respondents: Minutes of Exercise per Week, by Demographic, 2014
      • Amount of weekly exercise tied to food choices
      • Higher incomes provide an interesting wrinkle
        • Table Consumers Eating Less, Same & More of Foods "Compared to A Few Years Ago," Indexed to Amount of Weekly Exercise, 2014
      • Interest in real foods and the exercise connection, by demographic
        • Table Amount of Exercise, by Demographic: All Adults vs. Real Foodies, 2014
  • Appendix
    • Methodology
      • Consumer survey methodology
      • Report table interpretation
      • Indexing
      • Terms and definitions
      • Restaurant categories
      • Limited-service restaurant definitions
      • Full-service restaurant definitions
      • Other definitions

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