Allrecipes.com, founded here 14 years ago, is now part of Readers Digest but is still headquartered in Seattle, overlooking Westlake Park. The site received 435 million visitors in 2010, so they know something about what America wants for dinner.
Less processed food, more fruit and vegetables, for beginners. More South American and Japanese recipes, for another. Less meat in general. More pies. The biggest trend: more frequent neighborhood shopping at local bakeries, farmers markets, fruit stands, and wine and butcher shops.
Now, you could say these are self-fulfilling prophecies, that the home chefs with the inclination to use the internet to look up recipes are more savvy than most, and that trends like "eating healthier" are really nothing new. But it's hard to argue with the data provided by 435 million visits. Says the latest Allrecipes newsletter: "In October 2010, 71 million cooks (1/3 of all internet users 18+ years of age) visited food sites, consuming 1.2 billion pages of content." Recipe sites are said to be the fourth-most frequented internet category, after porn, search and social media. Allrecipes ranks in the top 500 websites worldwide, and saw a 38 percent spike in use in the past three months.
So you better believe it when the stats tell you "that even with all that baking going on, the majority of consumers are not making their (pie) crusts from scratch but buying them from the grocery store fridge or freezer case." The flip side of that is a whopping 1025 percent increase (since 2009) in the use of prepared frosting and a 239 percent increase in prepared cookie dough. Shopping increasingly involves smart phones as well: "Growing across all age groups, the consumer is searching for recipes, checking competitive pricing and making grocery lists with phones ... stored in an apron pocket."
Monthly, casual meals at home were reported by over half the Allrecipes users, as were formal sit-down dinners for special occasions. The rationale for a lot of trends, like home entertaining and "drinking at home" is clearly financial, but that doesn't stop a contradictory trend: more restaurant-style high-end stoves and fancy accoutrements like microplane graters, mandolines, and heat-resistant spatulas. In the unending battle for space on the kitchen counter, the indoor barbecue is on its way out, in favor of more useful appliances like blenders and bread machines, not to mention charging stations for those mobile phones.
Now, Allrecipes isn't the only source of information about how Americans spend their food dollars. We wrote last year about the not-so surprising data produced by supermarket scanners: Americans buy more soda pop than milk, for example, more cookies than fresh vegetables. And the new Zagat guide says Seattle diners spend less when they eat in restaurants than any city in America except New Orleans. And tip less, too.
No wonder Seattle restaurants are in such disarray, throwing money onto the sidewalk in hopes of luring bargain-hunters to their tables. Not money, exactly, but Groupon-style half-off coupons. Same thing. A nation of penny-pinchers, a city of cheapskates. But that's another story.
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