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Delivering on the promise of quick and easy meals

I don’t cook much in the summer, so this is the time of year when I start spending more time in the kitchen. But I have my limits, as do most people with busy schedules. Food marketers understand that most people want to get dinner on the table quickly and with minimal fuss. The internet, lifestyle magazines, and other sources are littered with ideas for one-dish meals and 15-minute dinners. Yet this sheer volume of recipes may intensify the problem.

More than one in two (52%) American adults aren’t willing to spend more than 30 minutes making dinner on an average weekday, finds a new US survey from GfK Consumer Life. This share ranges somewhat by age and gender, but not as much as you might think – from 48% of Boomer women to 60% of Millennial men. This means that there is an enormous appetite for quick and easy meal ideas, an appetite that marketers could be doing a better job of satisfying.

Extend “quick and easy” to finding the recipe itself

The internet is by far the most popular source for recipes across all consumer segments, cited by 60% of Americans. Many popular recipe websites seem geared more toward browsing than targeted searches. This is fine for those seeking inspiration, but not so helpful for those who want to know precisely what they can make in the next 20 minutes.

Apps are making gains as a regular recipe source in recent years, from 10% in 2012 to 18% today. Over a third (34%) of Millennial women use them. Apps such as the Allrecipes Dinner Spinner are ideally suited to the “need it now” quest and often allow users to filter on preparation time as well as other parameters such as ingredients and dietary needs.

Extend “quick and easy” to pre- and post-meal tasks

Even a 10-minute meal will take longer than that if you discover that you’re lacking a critical ingredient or utensil. Most (58%) Americans look for recipes that use ingredients and tools they already have in their kitchens, the top-ranked statement out of 11 related to cooking. Recipes should indicate which ingredients are optional or suggest substitutions where possible. The same goes for items required to prepare the dish. Not everyone has a vegetable steamer or is savvy enough to be comfortable leaving out the juniper berries.

Meal-kit services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh omit virtually all of the pre-cooking tasks including the recipe search and grocery shopping, but are not known for their speedy preparation times. The Peapod grocery delivery service offers the convenience of delivery, including meal-kit options. It has also partnered with UK-based Whisk to offer a “smart shopping list” option that allows customers to instantly add recipe ingredients to their online shopping cart.

At the other end of the process, it’s safe to say that people who don’t want to spend a lot of time making dinner don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning up afterwards. Washing dishes isn’t Americans’ most hated household task, but it’s certainly disliked more than shopping for food or cooking the actual meal. Recipes and meal-kit services should also account for clean-up time or they risk leaving an unpleasant ‘after-taste’ that could deter future use.

Conclusion

Touting “quick and easy” meal ideas will definitely appeal to American cooks, most of whom want to put fresh and healthy food on the table but don’t want to spend three hours preparing it. Marketers who offer recipes via websites and product packaging or meal-related services of any kind, need to deliver on all counts to rise above the crowd.

Diane Crispell is Senior Consultant on the Consumer Life team at GfK. She can be reached at diane.crispell@gfk.com.

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