Americans are nuking, not cooking

While consumers are focused on saving money at the supermarket in this economy, the same cannot be said of the supposed trend toward more cooking of "comfort foods," reports AdWeek.

According to The NPD Group's 2009 research (and compiled for this year's edition of its annual Eating Patterns in America report), Americans have not spent the past year simmering more cooked meals to fortify themselves against tough economic times. Instead, Americans have been microwaving their way through the recession, says Harry Balzer, NPD's vice president and chief industry analyst. Actual use of the stove -- the kitchen instrument that cooks food as opposed to merely thawing it out and warming it up -- has fallen to new lows.

"Americans are eating in their homes," he says, "but they're microwaving, not cooking." He adds that the increase in microwaving "was entirely in frozen foods" and not in any use that would qualify for the term "cooking." Microwaving had been flat for the previous 20 years, but it surged last year as the recession prompted consumers to shift from takeout foods to less-expensive microwaveable products, such as frozen pizza rather than pizzeria pizza. 

Americans looking to food for comfort in the past year more likely had a snack and a beer rather than a slow-cooked pot roast. And a recent Mintel report pointed to potato chips as a category that has performed well in the past year after having been flat earlier in the decade. Mintel senior analyst Bill Patterson notes some other categories that have fared well during the economic downturn. "Comfort-type foods that have benefited include pancake mixes, eggs, butter/margarine, salty snacks, beer, cream and creamers and sweet spreads," he says.