An article published in Harvard Business Review suggests that the supermarket and grocery business model may not be able to survive much longer without some serious revamping. The reason, author Eddie Yoon states, is the shift from cooking as a “daily activity” to a hobby. According to the numbers, 10% of consumers love to cook, while 45% hate it and 45% are lukewarm about it. These figures are roughly 33% lower than research collected by Yoon 15 years prior, which suggests a sharp decline over a relatively short period of time.
Why might this be? Yoon attributes the sharp decline in cooking to a few factors; our high culinary standards, the rise of cooking as a hobby, and the convenience of prepared foods and eating out.
“Food TV has raised our standards to discouragingly high levels,” states Yoon. Shows like Iron Chef are encouraging us to eat more, but not to cook more. Most consumers “spend more on food in restaurants than on groceries,” he says. Since 2009, the top 25 food and beverage companies have lost $18 billion in market share. The numbers continue to decline, and many grocery chains are engaging in an all-out “price war” to retain customers.
Yoon compares cooking to sewing. Sewing, which was once commonplace, is now simply a hobby. Out of pure convenience sake, most Americans buy ready-made garments, as opposed to making their own clothing. Yoon suggests that the future of cooking seems to be headed in a similar direction. Cooking meals from scratch is simply too time consuming to fit into most consumers’ busy lifestyles. Trivial food preparation, like putting milk in a bowl of cereal, seems to be falling in popularity due to the growing rise of convenient breakfast Drive-Thrus, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and even Taco Bell.
Yoon encourages grocery stores to cater to this growing demand for prepared foods, instead of attempting to stop or, “put a Band-Aid” on this inevitable shift. “As more people opt to buy prepared meals, grocers need to reallocate shelf space, and manufacturers will need to exit entire categories,” Yoon advises. “I love the grocery and food business. But the industry must stop trying to live in the past, when most households cooked most meals from scratch,” he says.
MATS technology (microwave assisted thermal sterilization), developed at Washington State University, may provide a solution to reducing food waste and extending shelf life, Yoon believes. The preservation method, which has been FDA approved, involves packaging food at room temperature. Food preserved using MATS technology is safe to eat for months. This is achieved by “sterilizing food with minimal heat, pressure, and time so that the texture and taste of the food remains restaurant-quality.” Note that MATS technology also eliminates the need for harsh preservatives and other chemical-sounding ingredients, making an ingredient profile that is easy to pronounce. Yoon believes that MATS technology is the technological breakthrough the grocery industry needs. Reducing food spoilage and waste could ultimately have a profound impact on inventory management, distribution, and broader supply chain benefits.
“My advice to grocery leaders is simple,” Yoon says. “Rediscover your pioneering spirit and missionary DNA. Embrace new science and technology. Rebuild your portfolio, adapt, and advocate for the future. Change the world, just as you did before.”