A year ago, the worldwide population had to abruptly transform its normal daily activities to meet demands forced by lockdowns and social distancing measures. Naturally, being at home more than usual meant that we would prepare more meals, constantly switching between our kitchen appliances and laptops as we managed virtual meetings for parents and learning for children.
Evolution of the Home Cook
According to Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group, consumers at the start of the pandemic fed their emotions, reaching for not-so-healthful options, snacking more often and consuming more sugar and alcohol as the lockdowns continued. As the months progressed and any hope of returning to “normal” anytime soon diminished, the population had an awakening of sorts.
“They said to themselves, ‘I really can’t sustain this indulgence,’” Seifer explains. “And so we started to see consumers choosing better options. They were looking to indulge, but tried to do it more sensitively.” Foods such as nutrition bars or popcorn that were lower in fat or sugar suddenly became popular.
Grocery shopping habits changed a bit as well — also a result of consumers being at home more. Instead of the proverbial “What’s for dinner?” question, there was a shift in focus to preparing more breakfast meals because families were not rushing out of the house for work and school. Seifer says that not only did pancake mix and egg sales increase, but also, sales of appliances — everything from waffle and bread makers to and juice and smoothie blenders — rose.
Registered dietician Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RDN, says there has been a surge in interest to prepare the trendy smoothie bowl, which she calls a “breakfast staple.” She would know, as she was recently named the first smoothie bowl sommelier from small appliance manufacturer Ninja. Barkyoumb’s mission is to make nutrition “simple and convenient,” especially for millennial women. She has more than 8,000 Instagram followers (@MillenialNutrition), where she shares tips and tricks to stay healthy, fit and energized. The Ninja Foodi Smoothie Bowl Maker and Nutrient Extractor allows consumers to “build confidence in the kitchen,” while following her simple and convenient mantra, Barkyoumb said. (See sidebar for more info on this product and more.)
Countertop Appliances for the Win
Equipping consumers with the products they need in the kitchen to fuel their newfound cooking passion (or necessity) will serve as a win–win.
“Over the past year, people have shifted from dining out to creating their own homemade meals; and with a spike in culinary interests, Americans are now cooking from the comfort of their kitchen more often than before,” Barkyoumb explains. “I’ve noticed the growing popularity of one-pan/-pot cooking as consumers are looking for convenience, fewer instructions and less cleanup time. People are also interested in appliances that are multifunctional.”
Seifer has seen a similar trend, reporting that there is increased interest in all kitchen appliances, most particularly those in the countertop category, with a 30 percent increase in 2020 in sales. Air fryers are also “big winners,” according to both Seifer and Barkyoumb, with the global air fryer market expected to increase to $1.2 billion by 2026. Seifer personally purchased one for his home, and Barkyoumb is currently testing the Ninja Digital Air Fry Oven. Convenience and quickness is key in these appliances as they have multiple functions, including reheat options — think leftover French fries.
Barkyoumb notes: “Plant-based meals are still a popular trend as well as homemade classics like breads, nut butters, and juices. We are spending more time at home and finding joy and creativity in the kitchen by making classic, nutrient-dense meals.” This nutrient-focused diet is not entirely new, however. In conjunction with necessity, consumers are elevating a previously held belief that food is medicine.
“Before COVID, we were thinking about things like brain health, Omega 3, gut health, and probiotics,” says Seifer. “We noticed a shift in focus to items that could help out with anxiety, stress, and immunity. As COVID concerns wane, we won’t look much for immunity-boosting properties other than for the occasional cold or illness. The aging population will concentrate on gut and heart health. The younger generation will focus on brain and eye heath, and how to sustain this health with foods that help with these properties.”
Assistance from Smart Appliances
To assist the novice home chef in the kitchen, smart, connected appliances offer a variety of options to make meal prep easy and fun. One example of this is the GE Profile 30-inch Smart Slide-In Front-Control Induction Range. This range not only includes a built-in, no pre-heat air-fry option, but also a built-in oven cam and guided cooking capabilities that connect with your smart device.
- While consumers indulged in unhealthful foods at the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a shift toward more healthful choices; quick and easy meal prep is key.
- Kitchen appliance sales have grown 30 percent; air fryers take the lead.
- Consumers will continue to choose more nutritious meals as medicine, health, and wellness remains top of mind.
Stephanie is the Senior Managing Editor for Connected Design.