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Growing Number of Americans Don't Have The Time or Know How to Cook, New Survey Reveals

Monday, November 18, 1996

Although the tradition of home-cooked meals remains strong in the U.S., a new survey documents a growing fact of life for many Americans: they don't know how to cook.

The survey, which polled 998 adults ages 18 and over, also finds that because the majority of women now work outside the home, whether Americans can cook or not, few have the time to prepare complete meals from scratch. This has led to dramatic changes in how consumers buy and prepare their meals and to an explosion of ready-to-cook food items.

According to the new survey, more than half of Americans (53 percent) feel they have less knowledge and fewer cooking skills today than their mothers and grandmothers had in the past. In contrast, 16 percent say they have more knowledge, while 30 percent believe they know about the same as their mothers and grandmothers.

Not surprisingly then, the survey finds that despite such innovations in the meat case as fresh meat products wrapped in individual portions or prestuffed or marinated products, many consumers still find meat preparation difficult. Nearly two-thirds of those polled (64 percent) say that the level of difficulty in preparing red meat is the same as five years ago. Only 22 percent believe meat preparation is easier and 10 percent actually think it is more difficult.

In addition to the decline in cooking skills, the survey points to another reason why more Americans have anxiety in the kitchen: less time available for preparing meals. Compared to 30 years ago when the evening meal took an average of two hours to prepare, the Yankelovich poll finds that half of Americans spend less than 45 minutes cooking and one in six (15 percent) typically spends less than 30 minutes. Of those who spend the most time, 23 percent take an hour or more to prepare dinner and 28 percent spend 45 minutes to an hour.

Because of these time constraints, more working families are using supermarket meat departments and other venues to buy prepared foods that are eaten at home, giving rise to a new phenomenon in food consumption called "TOTE" or "Take Out To Eat." Not surprisingly then, the survey finds that the number of week days that Americans cook is steadily declining. Specifically, 30 percent of those polled report cooking dinner three to four nights a week while 25 percent say they only cook one to two nights a week. Another 15 percent -- or one in six adults -- say they never cook dinner at home.

Further examining this trend, women (41 percent) are much more likely than men (16 percent) to cook dinner at home during the week. In fact, 25 percent of men say they never cook dinner at home during the week, while this applies to only seven percent of women.

"These findings make it clear that consumers' food preparation and eating patterns have changed dramatically in recent years," said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute. "As more Americans use convenience foods, take-out meals and quick methods of food preparation to meet the demands of both a family and a career, the meat and poultry industry is responding with a wide range of partially and fully cooked meat products."

The meat and poultry industry is also responding to consumer demand for low fat food products, a trend that is reflected in the new Yankelovich survey. When asked if they would be willing to try the new lower-fat breakfast and luncheon meats now available, two-thirds of consumers (68 percent) said yes. Only 32 percent said they would not be likely to try these products.

These findings support previous survey results which show that 56 percent of shoppers who make a change in their diet do so to lower their fat intake. In fact, limiting dietary fat has remained the most common change in consumers' diets since the early 1990s and is evidenced by the dramatic growth of reduced-fat meat products. Today, 50 percent of all offerings in the lunch meat and hot dog segments are reduced or low fat.

"Based on what these trends tell us, shoppers are looking for time-saving conveniences, easy-to-prepare products and lower-fat options. America's meat and poultry companies are at the forefront in providing these solutions to an increasing number of consumers," Boyle said.

The survey was conducted by Yankelovich Partners, Inc. as part of OmniPlus, a random telephone survey of approximately 1,000 adults in the continental United States. Fielded during evening hours between June 14 and June 23, the survey was based on a sample of 569 women and 429 men.

AMI represent the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
James Ratchford
Manager, Public Affairs

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