“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” While this quote, attributed to the French writer and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, may well be nearly 200 years old, it still rings true today. Our food and cooking habits reveal a lot about us and our lives. And they are shaped by societal developments including, for example, changes to the world of work, increasing mobility and reordered family structures. Just a few decades ago, most German kitchens were used daily for cooking as a matter of course: fresh ingredients prepared according to the tastes of loved ones to provide something nutritious for a hungry family. Of course, even today there are still people who cook daily. However, due to the many ways in which modern society has changed, the number of people who use their kitchens every day to chop ingredients and stand over the hob stirring while following tried and tested recipes is becoming ever smaller. However, anyone who thinks that hobs in Germany are simply left totally cold would be mistaken.
Everyday cooks generally bring fresh food to the table that the whole family likes. They predominantly prepare food themselves, even if using the cooker every day means extra work and is sometimes tedious. For this group of respondents, regularly putting wholesome meals on the table is simply a matter of good housekeeping. Today, they still make up the largest proportion of types of cook in Germany. However, they are becoming less relevant: While 29% of households belonged to this group in 2013, in 2017 they make up only 23%. These are the findings from the GfK Household Panel survey, which asked approximately 30,000 households about their shopping habits. Among other things, respondents revealed how often they bought fresh meat and vegetables, ready-made products, snacks and organic produce. Based on the data collected, it is possible to draw conclusions about individual cooking habits, which enables respondents to be split into eight different types of cook.
Cooking is a question of taste, and the taste for cooking has changed over the past few years. This has been shown by the trends in individual types of cooks since 2013. The stable economic situation and low unemployment rates mean that, in today’s world, more consumers can afford high-quality or expensive food. Gourmet home chefs enjoy preparing these sorts of food the most. While their share of 10% may signify that they are still a relatively small group, this type of cook has seen one of the highest growth rates over the past four years. The gourmet home chef is a symbol of a more sophisticated lifestyle that extends beyond the kitchen door. Their pantries are stocked with select products that they prepare with great passion. This type of cook uses fresh ingredients bought from their weekly market, organic store or delicatessen to try out new recipes and creations.
There are also increasing numbers of raw foodists. As before, this is still the smallest group, but its share has increased by two percentage points since 2013. This increase can above all be attributed to health-conscious cooks and vegetarians. People who avoid eating meat on ethical or health grounds tend to opt for fruit and vegetables more often. The proportion of weekend cooks in German households has also increased slightly. Currently, it is at 11%. This growth is also due to societal developments: The solid labor market in German not only means that more money is flowing into consumers’ bank accounts, but also often leads to them having less free time. As such, they seldom have the chance to stick to regular meal times, let alone to cook on a daily basis! Everyday food sins are balanced out at the weekend: Fresh, healthy cooking, above all for loved ones at home. The same cannot be said of the grazer group, which, like the weekend cookers, has increased by one percentage point to 11% since 2013. They very rarely reach for their wooden spoons, choosing instead to live predominantly on smaller, more frequent meals.
The shares for the three remaining types of cook have remained unchanged four years ago: Respondents who quickly blast pre-prepared meals using the microwave, oven or stove (16%), or “warmer-uppers” as we shall refer to them here, place a particular emphasis on food that is quick and uncomplicated. Cooking serves only to create something edible in little time, and accordingly, fresh ingredients are rarely used. Occasional cooks can be found in 15% of households. There are restraints to their everyday cooking, but they still reach for casserole dishes or soup bowls for special events and get stuck in. In contrast, people who dine out renounce this activity almost completely. They prefer to eat outside of their own homes – preferably hearty traditional fare. At 8%, their share has stayed stable at the same rate as four years ago.
Among other things, there is a certain correlation between age and cook type. The under 40s, who are often forced to dexterously juggle professional and family lives, only get around to personally taking care of the nutritional well-being of their loved ones at the weekend. As such, over one in three households within the category of weekend cooks fall into this age group. However, during the week they tend to eat whatever can already be found in the fridge: A total of 29% of the category of grazers belong to the younger generation. This figure is almost as high (28%) for those who take a keen interest in their health and prefer raw or exclusively vegetarian food. In contrast, predominantly eating out is barely an option for the younger generation. Only 11% of the people who dine out come from households under 40.
In their everyday lives, 40-59-year olds barely have time to regularly prepare proper meals at home. In total, 42% of grazers are in this age group. This is probably because, with a job to go to, and perhaps also still a family to look after, opting for currywurst, ready-made wraps or cheese sticks is simply the easiest option available. But this generation is certainly not kitchen-shy – many spend plenty of time turning fresh ingredients into tasty, wholesome meals on their days off. At 51%, most weekend cooks fall within this age bracket. However, the 40-59 year-old households are well represented in other cooking type groups as well. They make up 38% of both the warmer-uppers and everyday cooks, as well as 36% of gourmet home chefs and people who dine out, respectively.
Regularly standing over a hot cooker to prepare a meal at the weekend is clearly not a common occurrence for the oldest households. Only 15% of weekend cooks are aged 60+. However, this generation does still find the motivation and inspiration to get creative in the kitchen for special occasions. In total, 49% of occasional cooks fall within this group – higher than any other age group. There is a sizeable share of older people among raw foodists, at 42%, which is probably down to preferring to eat fruit and vegetables for health reasons. It is even more common, however, for Germans above 60 to completely forgo cooking: At 53%, they form the majority of people who dine out.
In addition to age, household size also plays an important role in shaping our cooking habits. Those who live alone evidently seldom make the effort to cook complex, fresh meals for themselves. More than one in every two respondents who regularly dine out are single. There are also a lot of single-person households in the raw foodist and warmer-upper categories: 51% of people who only use their kitchens to prepare raw meals live alone. If singletons do reach for a pot or a pan, it’s most likely so that they can prepare ready-made ingredients: Again, 51% of warmer-uppers are single-person households. In contrast, two-person households often tend to prefer something a little more refined. At 47%, couples and other two-person households make up the largest proportion of gourmet home chefs. This group is always keen to try something new. In general, kitchens in two-person households are rarely left to gather dust: 43% of everyday cooks, who make regular use of their stoves and cookers, live with another person. The proportion of occasional cooks living as couples is almost as high (42%). Families often simply do not have the time to cook every day, instead balancing this out at the weekends. As a result, at 45%, households with at least three people make up the majority of the weekend cooks category. Contrastingly, on a day-to-day basis, families prefer food to be quick to prepare. Alternatively, parents may eat their main meal at their work cafeteria, while the kids may have food provided as part of their daycare arrangement. This is revealed by a look at the share (32%) of family households (three or more people) within the grazer group.
Some have been committed vegans for years, others survive on chia seeds, açaí berries and anything else classed as a superfood, while others still are delighted about the new pre-prepared products on the supermarket shelves – these days, there are many different food trends to follow. The different cooking types have their own specific preferences when it comes to choosing their food. Gourmet home chefs are particularly enthusiastic about organic products (129 points) and modern superfood ingredients (125 points) – there is nothing like ecologically cultivated matcha tea or goji berries. They share this soft spot with the raw foodists, who assign even higher index values to organic produce and modern superfoods. Additionally, the latter also buy protein-rich food such as protein shakes or high-protein bread particularly often (120 points). However, raw foodists are the undisputed champions when it comes to vegetarian food: With an index of 205 points for products such as tofu, almond milk or soy yogurts, they are miles ahead of all other cook types in this respect. Everyday cooks are above average when it comes to vegetarian alternatives too (152 points). They also share the raw foodist and gourmet home chefs’ penchant for organic products (132 points).
While occasional cooks do not tend to follow any food trends in particular, weekend cooks have a clear preference: High-protein foods, savory snacks and to-go convenience items feature on their shopping lists at an above-average rate. Clearly they use these products to sate their appetites during the week without setting foot in the kitchen. Grazers (116 points) and warmer-uppers (130 points) have a particular fondness for to-go convenience products, such as pre-made salads or fruit drinks. However, warmer-uppers buy savory snacks (148 points) and chilled convenience products such as fresh pasta and sauces from the refrigerated aisles even more frequently. People who dine out rarely pay attention to these trend products. As expected, they score below average index values for all food groups.
How will our food and cooking habits change in the years to come? Will fried locusts, grubs or insects be hopping onto our plates as important sources of protein? Will smart fridges automatically add superfoods, snacks or precise quantities of ingredients for three-course meals to our digital shopping lists before ordering them online for us from the supermarket? Or perhaps when we are in a hurry and order a pizza from the Italian place round the corner it might be delivered by drone? Technical developments as well as new discoveries made by nutritional researchers could lead to new trends in the kitchen as much as changing work structures or alternative life models. As such, alongside the classics we might taste completely new creations made from ingredients that we haven’t even heard of yet in the future. The previously quoted Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was also enthusiastic about discovering new flavors. In his book “The Physiology of Taste”, Brillat-Savarin wrote the following: “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star.”
Data source: „„The variety of cooking“ from Consumers‘ Choice ‚17 – New patterns of nutrition; Publication on the occasion of Anuga 2017 / GfK Consumer Scan
If you have any queries, please contact Wolfgang Adlwarth, GfK SE, or Claudia Gaspar, GfK Verein.
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