Out to lunch Who can keep track of America’s ever-changing and evolving eating habits? Millennials and Gen-X consumers are more likely to snack today than eat meals. Consumers define eating occasions as much as “when” something is eaten as “how much” they consume to decide whether something is a meal or a snack. Four in ten of all adult meals (not just snacks) are eaten alone. Snacking accounts for more than half of all adult eating occasions. About one-third of adult alone-eating is about savoring, a higher-quality food experience. Seven in ten U.S. households have no children under 18 and more than one-fourth of U.S. households are single-person households. Whew, and we’re just warming up.

The dynamics of food culture and changing demographics in the U.S. heavily influence consumers’ shopping and eating behaviors. Marketers who focus only on 'trip type' or 'need state' analysis are missing the raw and true motivations that drive consumer shopping behavior. Eating occasions emerge from the way consumers live and are what give meaning and context to the way they shop.

morning snack To grasp the profound change in America’s eating behaviors and practices, we need to begin to think very differently about our study of today’s consumer. After years of research, we found that this behavior can be best understood at the level of occasions. The outcome of our cultural research was the development of a proprietary database, the Hartman Eating Occasions Compass, which tracks thousands of eating occasions.

Hartman Eating Occasions Compass

Traditional marketing has been fixated on what goes on in the store and three primary dayparts while largely ignoring the realities surrounding how people actually eat—in today’s contemporary food culture, what consumers eat is driven by the occasion. What makes the Hartman Eating Occasions Compass database unique is that we ground it in the world of food culture, the context within which consumers make sense of all food matters.

The Hartman Eating Occasions Compass provides a deeper understanding—as well as more relevant insights—because it is lodged firmly in the arena of consumer culture and, more specifically, food and eating culture. The Compass database isn’t a collection of quantitative data broken down by daypart. It is a comprehensive understanding of consumer eating behavior entrenched in our collective culture—the most influential forces that shape consumer behavior. Three broad themes have emerged from our occasions research:

  • The landscape of American eating occasions is very different than one might expect.
  • The context of the occasions exerts powerful forces that shape our consumption behavior during these moments.
  • These developments call for important strategic realignments if brands and retailers hope to remain relevant.

What we have found in the case of many legacy brands is that, while consumers have continued to change, many of these brands have failed to change with them. The Hartman Eating Occasions Compass is a powerful resource for companies to learn about American eating habits and stay connected with a changing consumer culture and evolving food culture.


The proprietary approach behind the Hartman Eating Occasions Compass uses a powerful online recall methodology that randomly selects two eating occasions the respondent has had in the past 24 hours. Our approach gains access to all adults in the population directly and in a Census Rep manner, preventing common under-reporting bias found in methods that use a head of household to report eating behavior of other individuals. In addition to demographics, the database contains approximately 41,000 eating occasions. Figure 1 is an example of a finding drawn from the Eating Occasions Compass.

Figure 1. Example of Accessing Hartman Eating Occasions Compass

Categories That Skew Towards Snacking Occasions
(for illustrative purpose only)
snacking categories

Certain categories are disproportionately consumed during snacking occasions. Morning snacking is high for fruit and bars. Afternoon and evening snacking is high for sweets, salty snacks, and crackers.


Only The Hartman Group’s Eating Occasions Compass lets you:

  • study occasions to understand the competitive landscape for your category
  • connect occasions to activities in marketing and communications
  • seek marketing opportunities for less common dayparts (e.g., late night is a growing but often overlooked daypart with fewer rules about what’s appropriate)
  • recognize opportunities that run counter to trends
  • market to iconic social occasions, even if they are not common
  • understand the association between where food is consumed and where it is sourced
  • overlay useful consumer segmentations on occasions

To learn more about how you can access the Hartman Eating Occasions Compass, please visit the Compass webpage and download the fact sheet.