Market View: Kids Are Discovering Cooking

Now what can the food industry do to nurture this interest?

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

I recently invited my granddaughter Charlotte to our house to do some cooking. I thought I would introduce this 12-year-old to some “real” meal preparation. As I began talking to her, I realized that she knew more than I thought about cooking.

Since schools no longer offer home economics, I expected that she would know very little. I began to explain how to make a roux, when she interrupted me and told me she always uses a roux when making certain dishes. I also told her that my preference is to use a very specific type of chicken broth, when she told me she prefers to use “Better than Broth.” It was then that I realized this 12-year-old could cook. She went on to prepare a delicious risotto with shrimp and asparagus.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised because when I started investigating I discovered that cooking among young teenagers is becoming an in-thing. Some of the cooking shows today have children competing against chefs such as “Man vs Child.” I found out that many of these TV shows with kids doing the cooking have a high audience among teenagers. I found out my granddaughter regularly watches not only the kids’ cooking shows, but many of the other cooking shows targeted to adults.

There have been some other cues that suggest cooking may be coming back. There are retail businesses that invite consumers to come to their commercial kitchens and prepare foods that have previously been purchased for them. Other companies such as Blue Apron send all the ingredients to make great meals at home. They do not cook for you; they just make it easier for you to cook.

How many years have I been to meetings where food processors have lamented the fact that consumers just don’t cook anymore? They say things were better when consumers cooked from scratch. Well, there appears to be a resurgence of cooking. For the time being it appears to be the younger generation that has taken up cooking as an area of interest.

The question that came to my mind was, now what will the food industry do about this? For so many years they lamented the lack of cooks, but things may be turning around. What actions or steps will food processors and retailers take to encourage this nascent trend?

First of all, I think there should be something on every processor’s website directed at kids cooking – maybe even a separate kids’ cooking website. These digital natives are used to going to the web for information. I asked my granddaughter where she got all her ideas for the various dinners that she has cooked in the past, and they all came from the Internet. 100% came from the Internet! I think it’s important that these kids’ websites provide more than recipes for chocolate chip cookies, but have some sort of challenge to do a little more each time.

There may also be a little more instruction in terms of some of the steps that need to be accomplished.

In the absence of home economics classes, the food industry should offer afterschool classes for kids who want to learn to cook. The tactics of this activity might be a little complicated but both kids and parents are looking for things for kids to do after school. Another alternative would be to provide chefs for school assemblies. These afterschool activities could be integrated into various school courses.

For example, if they’re using recipes, they could require the students to change the proportions of the recipes, which would help with math; they could focus on regional dishes and help with geography; they could focus on how some of the ingredients come together to make the meal and it could help with science. If the afterschool activity is matched to various school curricula it would be something that the schools would be much more interested in.

One last idea would be to develop some sort of a competition or challenge. The TV show has the kids challenging the adults, and it makes it more fun for young people to watch the show. These kinds of games or competitions could include sending photos of their meals, tweeting the problems they had, or any kind of activity where they share with other kids their successes and obstacles.

To be honest, I don’t think a lot of food companies will jump on the kids’ cooking bandwagon. The product sales to kids in the next year are likely to be negligible and will not make the CFO particularly excited. The promise for the kids’ cooking is that when they grow up they will be capable cooks and know the difference between fresh-prepared and microwavable.

It would seem to me that rather than have individual companies try to inspire kids’ cooking, it should be more in the domain of some association. Regardless of whether it’s an association or a company, somebody has to get behind the movement of kids enjoying cooking as a fun activity so that when they become adults they continue to cook and they continue to enjoy it.

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