Advertising Age has an interesting article this week, and the news is good...unless you happen to be a current or aspiring restaurateur:
For the first time since June Cleaver donned pearls and aprons in the 1950s, the percentage of women choosing to work outside the home has been flat to down for several years running. Not coincidentally, the number of meals purchased at restaurants per person has stopped growing too, for the longest sustained stretch in the 23 years NPD Group has tracked the number.Here's AdAge's take on the trend:
The decades-long rise of women in the work force -- and the related rise of meals bought from restaurants -- has ground to halt and begun to reverse since the turn of the millennium. The numbers have gotten little attention, and they fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but their ramifications are huge for restaurant, supermarket and food marketers.
Women's participation rate in the paid U.S. labor force topped out at just above 60% in 1999 and again in 2001 but has fallen since then, according to the Labor Department. Restaurant meals, fueled for decades by the migration of moms to the work force, also topped out at 211 per person per year in 2001 according to NPD and likewise have been bouncing lower since, hitting 207 this year.
For restaurants, it means an end to a demographic gold mine that fed decades of growth. For supermarkets, it means a reversal of a trend that fueled decades of decline and may even help savvier operators gain an edge in their long-losing battle against Wal-Mart. And for package-food companies, the trends offer a chance to gain ground on restaurants for the first time in decades.
I'm not a demographer, so I'll leave the actual statistics to those who are. But I am going to quibble just a bit with the interpretation of the stats. I'm not sure that I'm seeing a direct correlation between the decrease in working mothers and the downturn in restaurant business. I tend to think that the increase in eating at home is more across-the-board than that. I'm not sure of all the reasons, but I think families, moms in particular, have been affected by warnings about fat content, poor health practices in restaurants, the fragmentation of family life, and many other factors that are encouraging them to go back home for dinner.
I'm a "SAHM." And I love to cook. If I wanted to, I could structure my life so that I was cooking most of the time. But it's not just women like me that are rediscovering the joys and benefits of cooking at home and staying out of the fast-food and buffet lines. Even those of you who work outside the home or have home businesses or other heavy demands on your time are, I believe, right in there on the movement to cook at home. Why else would we be seeing the proliferation of trends such as:
Bulk/freezer/Once-a-Month Cooking. You can't be in the blogosphere for long without running across cookbooks, tutorials, web sites, and equipment specifically designed for a family to cook enough in a weekend to last a month or more.
Meal Preparation Station franchises like Super Suppers, Dream Dinners, Meal Makers, or locally-owned and operated stores where you can go and assemble a week's worth (or more) of meals from recipes you choose and ingredients that are pre-chopped, measured, etc. You then freeze for later quick preparation.
Mixes and packaged ingredients sold "party-style" for main dishes, breads, desserts, even salad dressings allowing for meals that feel and taste like "from scratch" but can be cooked very quickly at the end of a day. Homemade Gourmet and Tastefully Simple are two of the entries in this field.
Grocery delivery services like Netgrocer.com, Schwan's (an oldie but getting a new look from a lot of folks), and even Amazon.com, as well as many local supermarket chains that will deliver for a flat fee. Sadly, the grocery monopoly in my local area has kept this from being available to me.
All these options are being fueled not so much by stay-at-home moms (because many of these options aren't cheap and would be impossible for some one-income families) but by working moms who don't want to eat "by default," who want a dinner around the table even at the end of a busy work day and would rather spend their food dollars in ways that foster instead of fracture family time.
Are you finding faster, cheaper, easier, or more satisfying ways of feeding your family? Tell me about them in the comments!
(Katherine, over at Raising Five, beat me to blogging this today, so go read her comments too. If you're a busy mom and you can only read a few blogs, this should be one of them anyway, IMO!)