Eating alone

US: Eating alone is the new normal

Eating alone has become as common as eating together, according to new research on eating occasions by The Hartman Group, a leading US market researcher on consumer culture. Analysis of The Hartman Group’s Occasions Compass data reveals that close to half – 46 percent – of all adult eating occasions [in America] are now solitary eating occasions and 40 percent of all adult meals (excluding snacking occasions) are eaten alone.

“One of the most interesting aspects of the trend toward eating alone is the notion that it represents the dismantling of the communal meal and the way we ‘used to eat’,” affirms Laurie Demeritt, The Hartman Group’s president and COO.

“When you consider these findings and look at the changing patterns of our cultural eating behaviours, we begin to understand why many companies that continue to market to traditional family occasions are missing out on the emerging possibilities concealed within the eating alone occasion for a vast number of adults.”

The Hartman Group’s extensive qualitative and quantitative research and data collection on eating behaviours finds that America’s food culture is evolving from a traditional, status-quo culture to one that is reimagined, consumer-driven and experiential.

One stunning example of this is the manner in which many of us eat today, which nearly half the time is completely alone. In certain settings (such as the workplace), in fact, eating alone has become so pervasive that many of us don’t realise we’re doing it anymore – underscoring what a ubiquitous behaviour solitary eating is. The rise of eating alone has been fed by a number of trends:

Transitions within households post-World War II. The decades after WWII saw the movement of mothers into the work force, the rise of single-parent households and the rise of technology (eg., television), all of which made inroads on traditional, social, sit-down “family meals.”

A gradual loss of focus over the past fifty years on the importance of dining communally during specific meal occasions. Consider the now nearly-forgotten practice of workers and school children returning home midday for family lunches or the increasingly rare “family dinner”.

A continual movement away from a focus on taking time to consume foods. In modern culture, many meal occasions, especially those that are solitary, are now characterised by the mechanics of eating and not the celebration of food occasions. A common example is the now-pervasive practice of Americans eating alone at their desks while they work.

The snackification of meals. America is now a snacking culture where eating any time of day is a personal right, and satiety is often the goal. Consumers increasingly believe that eating smaller meals more frequently is healthier and that snacking bridges gaps between meals due to long work and commute times.

While eating alone is often described as a lonely prospect, riddled with pitfalls related to poor dietary judgment and introspective nutritional fixations, The Hartman Group sees that the growing trend of eating alone is also influencing some profoundly positive and different ways of looking at such an occasion.

Source: The Hartman Group