Who's Cooking?

Retailers can thank Millennials for the popularity of prepared meals and kits. Brad Edmondson explains why young people aren't home cooking.

Brad Edmondson
Who's Cooking?
October 2017
 
More than 73 million Americans are between the ages of 18 and 34, and most of these young adults have not fixed their habits yet when it comes to food shopping.  Thirty-four percent of young adults don't even buy their own groceries, because they still live with their parents.  Another 25 percent might only buy food for themselves, because they live with roommates.  Young adults have formed just 16 million family households. Someone might actually do some cooking in these households, but it isn't a sure thing.
 
Young adults are unlikely to cook because most of them don't have domestic lives, at least not yet.  They are still struggling to establish themselves. You can see this when you segment the group by age.   
 
Fifty-six percent of adults aged 18 to 24 live with their parents, and only 16 percent live independently.  Even among adults aged 25 to 34, 20 percent live with a parent and just 56 percent live independently. About one-quarter of each age group lives with roommates.  I think that young people want homes and families of their own, just like everyone else. But they are struggling to get them, mostly because they can't afford them.
 
The economy has gotten tougher, and this means that some young people will never move out.  More than eight million adults aged 25 to 34 still live with their parents.  Three-quarters of those stay-at-homes are either employed or enrolled in school, but that leaves more than two million young adults who are just sitting on mom's couch.  The takeaway here is that multi-generational households are a new stage of life. They are a big, permanent market segment. 
 
Marriage is another milestone.  The proportion of age groups that are married increases from 9 percent of people aged 20 to 24 to 31 percent of ages 25 to 29, and 50 percent of ages 30 to 34.  It's the same principle.  People are postponing marriage until they can afford it, and growing numbers are giving up.  Fewer than half of American adults are married now, compared with 57 percent in 2000.
 
Parenthood is the biggest step toward growing up, and about 21 million young adults are now raising a child. Yet fewer than two-thirds of those young parents are married. More than two million are cohabiting while raising their biological child. Another 4.4 million are single parents, and 650,000 are raising someone else's child.  This is the biological clock at work.  Young women are having children when their bodies are ready for it, whether or not they have a high income or a stable domestic life.  
 
The increase in childbearing outside of marriage is happening even as the number of unplanned pregnancies reaches historic lows. Millions of young women see having a child as essential.  They are shaping the rest of their lives around that choice. 
 
Once you understand the diversity of young adult lives, it is easy to understand why so few young adults cook, and why they spend so much on prepared foods.  Most young adults share their kitchens with parents or roommates.  Only two-thirds of young adult parents live with their child's other parent.  They exist in a world where everything could change tomorrow.
 
Still, young adults are extremely important to private label companies because gaining their loyalty could mean gaining a customer for life.  Most of them will probably end up creating families and developing weekly shopping habits, but it's taking them longer to get there.
 
For PLMALive!, I’m Brad Edmondson.
 
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