Our new report, At the Dining Table: American Meals and Cooking, profiles three highly food-engaged groups of consumers and reveals opportunities for brands

Happy group of young adult cooking together

It probably comes as no surprise that well into the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the central points of tension, daily toil and celebration in consumer households—the planning, procurement, preparation and consumption of meals and cooking—is an endless source of insights into food culture, notably where trends relating to cooking, shopping and eating habits are headed.

At the Dining Table: American Meals and Cooking provides in-depth analysis of how consumers’ changing and enduring attitudes to food and beverages play out daily at meals and sheds insights into how three highly engaged groups of consumers point to mainstreaming priorities when it comes to meals, cooking, and eating.

At the Dining Table finds different consumers place different priorities on meals, resulting in multiple avenues through which consumers engage in the experience. Three archetypes that characterize highly engaged consumers can help identify these nuances and serve as a model for future-proofing food and beverage brands and companies (Figure 1):

Capable Cooks: regularly apply their knowledge and skills in the kitchen to scratch cooking endeavors and signal mainstream consumer aspirations for fresher, more creative, and better personalized ways of eating.

Exploring Eaters: seek out new meal experiences and are emblematic of mainstream consumer desires for flavor discovery and adventure in food.

Discerning Denizens: are representative of emergent consumer priorities on food attributes, sourcing distinctions, and certifications and are illustrative of how growing numbers of consumers evaluate quality in food today.

 Figure 1: Cooks, Eaters, Denizens: Three Consumer Archetypes Highlight Opportunities to Connect with Engaged Consumers 
Source: At the Dining Table: American Meals and Cooking report, The Hartman Group, Inc. (click to enlarge)

At the Dining Table 3 Consumer Segments

Food and eating play a central role in American culture, yet the ways consumers experience and connect with food are as diverse as consumers themselves. Some love putting their cooking skills to the test, others relish trying new tastes and cuisines, and yet others value looking under the hood at individual ingredients and their sourcing. Each of these types of engagement with food comes with its own scale of intensity, and where a consumer sits on each of these dimensions can help explain how they think about mealtimes and how they plan, procure, prepare, and partake in meals. 

While about a third of consumers (30%) fall into at least one of the Capable Cooks, Exploring Eaters, and Discerning Denizens archetypes, these highly engaged groups are devoted to food and are likely spend more time and money than the average consumer on food. They each represent trend-forward, aspirational stances to meals that are more broadly held by a growing number of consumers.


Brands and companies need to consider how their current and future offerings help meet the mealtime objectives and approaches represented by each of these archetypes. CPG, restaurant, and food retailers should consider the fact that:

  • Capable Cooks represent consumers’ scratch cooking aspirations and a desire to return to fresher, less processed food consumption lifestyles. They devote significantly more time to planning, procuring, and preparing meals, and they genuinely enjoy the process. How do your product lineup and narrative positioning communicate to consumers the dependability and benefits of your brand for achieving these goals?
  • Exploring Eaters are emblematic of a wider consumer trend towards seeking discovery and delight in new global cuisines, finding new and interesting flavor profiles and crafting novel experiences at mealtimes that can help mitigate the doldrums of established routines and repertoires. While consumers do not demand hedonistic food revelry on every occasion, how might your business or brand incorporate aspects of food discovery that can bring a more interactive, exploratory, or indulgent balance to staid, everyday consumer routines?
  • Discerning Denizens are the tip of the spear in a deepening mainstream consumer engagement in food attributes, sourcing, ingredient functionality, and third-party certifications—cues that figure prominently in how consumers evaluate quality in food and beverage products today. How do your products or brands achieve differentiation vs. competitors along these measures? What attributes provide the most impact for your target consumers?

More information:

At the Dining Table 2021: American Meals and Cooking features unique hybrid analyses of both quantitative and qualitative data drawn from a study-specific survey, The Hartman Group’s proprietary Eating Occasions Compass database of American eating patterns, and virtual interviews and mobile ethnography. The 110-page report is an essential, investigative research study, providing in-depth analysis and thought-provoking insight backed by a range of data for startups, established companies, investors, and stakeholders across the food and beverage industry.

Download a report overview of At the Dining Table here.