Eating Alone: Market Opportunity — And a Step Toward Obesity?

The act of eating together  helps regulate food portioning and consumption. It also reinforces social bonds, gives families a reliable time to communicate and ideally reinforces the social structure of the group through division of labor involved in cooking, serving and cleaning up meals.

Mnet 141724 Eating Alone Lead

People are eating alone more than ever, with 47 percent of eating occasions now happening alone. And they're happy about it, many of them using the time to catch up with work, social media and other projects. This presents a huge opportunity for food retailers, wholesalers and restaurants, because often it's hard for consumers to find the fresh, delicious single-portion meals they crave.

The Hartman Group explores that theme in today's Hartbeat. But there is another side to the trend toward eating alone, and that is obesity. A 2011 report from The Hartman Group found that 71 percent of parents who report no weight problems with their children are more likely to eat meals as a family, compared to 51 percent of parents whose children have weight problems.

The act of eating together, or commensality, helps regulate food portioning and consumption. It also reinforces social bonds, gives families a reliable time to communicate and ideally reinforces the social structure of the group through division of labor involved in cooking, serving and cleaning up meals. Companies can help by creating marketing campaigns that encourage the socialization of meals and snacking — like Coca-Cola's new bottle that can only be opened with the help of another bottle.

The nonprofit Ellyn Satter Institute has developed an entire program for helping families "get the meal habit," starting with a look at the many reasons people don't want to eat together — no time, not enjoyable, don't want to be bothered and so on. Getting the habit starts with choosing a mealtime and sitting down to eat whatever everyone at the table would typically eat alone — even boxes of pizza and bottles of Coke.

No foods need to change at first, and for a long time foods can be added but not subtracted. The key is eating together. The Institute's research has found that it's even okay to let children eat dessert before the regular meal — but recommends not giving seconds of dessert. However, "it's okay to offer unlimited cookies at snack time because the cookies aren’t competing with other nutritious food," according to its Facebook page. The aim is to keep food and eating enjoyable and let the bond of togetherness (and something called the "division of responsibility" with children) dictate how much of which foods are eaten.

Blog by the Hartman-Group. Please visit their website here.

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