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Canadians' food habits changing for the worse

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More baby boomers will likely be opting for ready-made rather than home-cooked meals in the next 10 years.


More baby boomers will likely be opting for ready-made rather than home-cooked meals in the next 10 years.

TORONTO -- In 10 years, it's expected that Canadian baby boomers will eat more convenience foods while people born after 1993 will be skipping more meals, according to recent research.

A study conducted by Toronto marketing research firm NPD Group, called A Look into The Future of Eating -- Canadian Marketplace, says that each generation will make its own distinctive mark on food consumption trends over the next decade.

In their analysis, the NPD Group asked people across the country to keep a food diary for seven days. It predicted what each generation will be eating in 10 years and whether people tend to eat more or less of a food as they age, and looked at which age groups are growing or declining, explained Joel Gregoire, a food and beverage industry analyst with the NPD Group.

The top food groups expected to increase in importance are salty/savoury snacks, which include cheese, and easy meals, such as yogurt or snack bars. Two of the food groups forecasted to decline in importance are heat-and-eat breakfasts and combination dishes, such as soups and stews.

The forecasts indicate that post-millennials, or those born from 1993 to the present, will be skipping more meals in 10 years.

"Some of my speculation on that is that as post-millennials enter into early adulthood, people when they enter early adulthood tend to skip more meals. ... As people move out of the home, as they have a harder time with routine, they tend to skip more meals. As they get married, as they have children, as they age, that level of skipping generally tends to drop overall," Gregoire, 35, said in an interview.

Lunch was the meal most likely to be skipped. "That's pretty typical too. We see that more people tend to skip lunches than they do breakfasts," he added.

Another reason this group may be skipping meals is that they haven't been taught to cook, says Mary Sue Waisman, a dietitian based in Halifax.

"We've got big nutrition issues facing our country and we need to look at the kinds of eating habits that are going to best help us eat better. In order to combat some of the crises ahead of us we're looking to try to instil good eating habits with nutrient-dense foods where every bite counts," Waisman said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Members of Generation X, or those born between 1967 and 1975, are expected to increase consumption across several categories, including simple breakfast foods (ready-to-eat or boxed cereals), centre-of-plate protein like beef, chicken, fish, pork and sausages and yogurt and snack bars.

"As they move into having families now, as they move into more the older years and their families age, that's why I think we're going to see some of that growth in those particular food groups," said Gregoire.

Baby boomers are forecasted to eat more convenience foods over the next decade.

"There's a time of life when you're willing to cook more. But as people age, as people are more likely to become single, sometimes you want to put less effort into the meal that you're preparing," said Gregoire.

The post-millennial group is also expected to munch on more salads while eating fewer salty and savoury snack foods over the next 10 years based on the data, while baby boomers are eating more chips.

"We've seen an actual growth in the consumption of potato chips over the past couple of years and the group that we've seen it growing in is adults over the age of 55," he said, adding that the reason for this could be innovation on the part of potato chip companies.

Food companies can use the survey results to assess whether they want to be in categories that are forecasted to grow and take a look at who is expected to eat more of certain food groupings and see if they want to change their marketing strategy, said Gregoire.

"I think that what's sometimes interesting in our data is that what people say they do and what they actually do don't always correspond," said Gregoire.

"So if you were to ask people if they are looking to avoid or cut back on their sodium, yeah, of course they're looking to cut back on their sodium, but that does not necessarily translate into new behaviours. Things like taste become involved, things like convenience become involved."

In a survey conducted by the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition in which participants used the computer to chat with each other and upload photos of their eating, cooking and shopping experiences, it was also found that people thought they were eating well but that was not always borne out in fact, said Waisman.

"Oftentimes people don't realize what they're eating until it's in black and white in front of them or until they have photographs of what they're actually doing. I think people hear a lot that health is important and (say), 'Yes, I believe I'm making healthy choices,' but when you actually sit down and look at it, it may be a different story."

The September 2010 Ethnographic Study: A New Perspective on Canadians' Attitudes and Behaviours Toward Food and Nutrition also found that people will be eating more convenience foods.

"The study supports the importance of nutrition in choosing foods and the supremacy of taste but shows that convenience is emerging as more of a prominent factor in food selection," said Waisman, who is chairman of the board.

"We have to convince people that taste and nutrition go hand in hand.... People may be time-starved and time challenged and we need to be respectful of that and help them make good choices but also encourage that some of the best ways to control the food you eat is to make it yourself."

"If you're worried about salts or fats or additives, control it at home."


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2013 C4

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