At Stir, we are on a mission to help our clients fully understand the changing consumer attitudes to mealtimes, so they can more effectively plan and execute comms plans. For the last month, we have been carrying out a piece of work looking at the changing face of breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as the key trends driving those changes.

You can read the full report here, but in this we’ll share an extract concentrating specifically on the trends in consumer attitudes towards dinner, as well as strategies for changing brand perception to appeal to them.


1. The evening meal deal

Dinner is arguably considered the most important meal of the day, with 80% of our respondents saying they never skip it. It’s also regarded as more of an emotional moment to be enjoyed at the end of the day, as opposed to the functional mid-week breakfast and lunch occasions. This gives brands a real opportunity to appeal to these emotions through powerful storytelling.

The UK collectively spent more than £49bn on eating and drinking out in 2017; the ‘evening meal out’ alone grew by an extra £1.4bn in the same period. The economy may be struggling, but we continue to see that consumers aren’t willing to compromise on experiences (especially when it comes to food and drink).

Despite this, home is still overwhelmingly the place to be for dinner, especially with the rise of Uber Eats and Deliveroo. In fact, 50% of dinners bought from restaurants were delivered to homes, with consumers’ desire to eat restaurant quality and range, but in the comfort of their own living rooms, soaring. 75% of our respondents had eaten out or ordered a takeaway in the previous week (an increase from 68% five years ago), spending on average £22 a week.

With a fifth of families now having at least two takeaways a week, what would in the past have been a treat saved for the weekend, is now a normal mid-week dinner solution in many households. Brands must recognise that they are not only competing with their peers in the grocery aisle, but also with out-of-home restaurant chains and home delivery aggregators.

Becoming the dinnertime hero

There is a real opportunity for brands to leverage eating out needs – convenience and experience – and bring them to the consumer at home, with the aim of dispelling the myth that home-cooking is a lengthy, difficult process. Consumers want brands to help them solve challenges around lack of time and inspiration. There’s an opportunity for empathetic brands to succeed by demonstrating an understanding of these pressures and becoming the dinnertime hero, offering healthy, easy-to-prepare and desirable options.

HelloFresh and others have successfully done this by understanding that busy consumers often don’t have the time to research, plan and shop for new, restaurant-quality dishes (49% of consumers have tried a meal-kit in the past year). They’ve positioned themselves as the answer to this problem using predominately social and digital channels or partnerships with influencers in order to build advocacy amongst a number of different consumer groups. Food brands could emulate HelloFresh in this way, working with influencers to advertise recipes online, but ensuring the message is focused around how quick and easy it is to recreate at home.

Supermarkets could also do more to deliver an eating-out experience alongside convenience (Sainsbury’s has already added a Zizzi pizza stand to a number of its larger stores). In order to shift more own-brand products off the shelf though, we’re seeing a trend of products being grouped together to make up a recipe, as opposed to their own separate meat, fish and dairy aisles. Allowing customers to pick up a recipe card then easily grab all the ingredients they need in one go, rather than rushing around a whole store, is more likely to encourage purchases. Integrating this tactic, and importantly getting the message out to consumers through a mix of traditional PR (print and online articles, social and influencers), could see supermarkets become the natural hero of dinnertime. And ‘non-own-brands’ could look to get in on the action through partnering with retailers to ensure their product is integrated into the offering.

Embracing convenience

But what about those brands that aren’t necessarily trying to create a ‘restaurant experience’? The frozen food category, for example – chicken dippers and oven chips, isn’t ever going to (nor should it) be a gourmet choice.

In these cases, it’s good to embrace the fact that consumers also regularly want, and sometimes need, a quick and simple solution for dinner. Relevant brands should look to emotively connect with consumers at these times, to have their back and be the hero to offer a time-efficient solution.

Birds Eye found that shifting its messaging from ‘apologetic’ to ‘confident’ and focusing on the benefits of frozen food, in terms of limiting waste, helped to win back consumers (Econsultancy, 2018). The brand also won praise for standing behind a group of ‘mummy bloggers’, who found themselves facing criticism from the Daily Mail for admitting to feeding their children fish fingers. Birds Eye posted a gif online with the hashtag #solidaritea to show support for all mummies and the less glamorous side of parenting; a great example of a brand understanding what their consumers want, building a stronger purpose, and communicating it in an authentic way.


2. Making time for each other at dinner

We eat together less often – that’s a huge change in the dinner dynamic. A third of us dine alone during the week, with a further third eating in front of the TV.

But clever brands shouldn’t look to ‘solve’ this change in behaviour; instead, celebrate the change and help facilitate this TV moment. We are now a Gogglebox nation and brands should embrace it.

Conversely, 68% of parents admit they need to make more effort to sit together as a family at the dinner table. The average family finds time to do this just four times a week, and one of those is spent in complete silence because everyone is tapping away on their phones.

One of the big changes comes from a shift in traditional family make-up. We’ve moved on from a time when the family would gather round to enjoy a home cooked meal (usually prepared by a stay-at-home mother). Now it’s more common for both parents to work and for everyone to have different finishing and commuting times. Not only this, but it’s becoming more difficult for families to find foods that suit everyone. Veganism, vegetarianism and ‘clean eating’ have all grown immensely in popularity, particularly amongst teenagers and young adults. All of this has led to 36% of parents having to prepare two different evening meals a day.

Despite all this, two thirds wish they could dine together more often, and 80% say the dinner occasion is an important way of spending time with each other.

Appealing to the fractured family make-up

In order to appeal to a nation where eating and diet is becoming more personal, brands that are able should consider how to showcase the variety of products they offer – for example, through meat and vegetarian recipe options that can easily be prepared together. Additionally, it’s essential that brands really research their consumers and ensure they’re reaching them on the right channels. It could be that teenagers are more likely to be adopting a gluten-free or vegan diet, but ultimately their parents will still be doing the weekly shop; ensure your marketing or comms strategy is aimed towards both segments for ultimate effectiveness.

It’s also important that brands recognise and acknowledge the new family dynamics. McCain’s ‘We Are Family’ campaign, launched in 2016, recognises and celebrates the reality of the modern family make-up and the imperfect goings-on at tea time. This is a stark contrast to the likes of Bisto, that historically depict the perfect 2.4 children family enjoying a civilised meal together. Anyone with kids knows this glossy image of family life is far from representative of the reality bunfight at family meals. Today’s consumer wants to see authentic representation in comms, providing a real opportunity to form a deeper bond with the audience.

Unsurprisingly, weekend behaviour is different to mid-week. 61% still gather as a family for dinner at the weekend. Sunday roast is still the anchor meal at the weekend, with 70% saying they have one regularly. But with the threat of reinvented Sunday lunches on the horizon, traditional brands associated with this meal (think Aunt Bessie’s, Bisto, Knorr, etc.) should continue to innovate so as not to be usurped. Partnering with family-based influencers or chefs to include their products in content or recipes to reinforce their relevance will help to keep them front of mind.


3. Brits love to cook (we just need more help)

British cooks now spend just 38 minutes preparing the evening meal – down from an hour in 1980, and 100 minutes in 1960. Brits spend on average 5.9 hours a week in the kitchen; 34% say they prepare or cook a meal from scratch once a day compared to 26% in 2007, yet one in eight avoid doing so altogether.

66% of adults describe themselves as passionate about food and drink, and 60% of 16 to 34-year-olds like experimenting with new cooking trends and ingredients, compared to 51% of UK consumers overall. However, they also say cooking from scratch produces too much washing up, and 44% think preparing raw ingredients is a hassle. Half of Brits who cook from scratch say their main motivation is enjoyment, followed by control of what goes into the food (49%), and to save money (47%). But, on average, consumers cook from a repertoire of nine dishes.

Evolving your brand for different generations

The research shows that consumers are open and passionate about cooking, it’s just about reaching them and persuading them to branch into other dishes and ingredients.

For example, millennials and Gen Z may be more likely to search for inspiration (and validation) through social media channels such as Instagram and Pinterest, so partnering with digital influencers is key to building advocacy and awareness. It’s important to keep these partnerships authentic – consumers are much savvier when it comes to unnatural, ‘fake’ ads and they can cause serious backlash if they feel this way (the recent Listerine/Scarlett London ad is an example of this!). Brands should look at using a mix of traditional and new media to appeal to different target audiences and generations, but the key is to ensure the content created is relevant to each channel; whether it’s a ‘what I eat in a day’ style vlog with a YouTuber, an experiential campaign, or a simple recipe feature in a cookery magazine or online newspaper.

When looking for dinner recipe inspiration, 16-34s look online (53%), while over-55s are more likely to look in cookbooks (49%). Overall, friends and family are the biggest source of cooking inspiration, as 75% state peer-to-peer advocacy as an important factor in purchase decisions. Given this, manufacturers should harness brand fans to drive loyalty through advocacy.

A recent example of powerful advocacy-based advertising is Waitrose’s ‘Beautifully Simple’ brand campaign, encouraging customers to get cooking delicious recipes using only a handful of simple ingredients. Partnering with influencers to blog and vlog their creations, and promising 25% off the listed ingredients in-store, they were able to harness their customers’ need for inspiration and convenience, making it easy for them to cook good dinners (while encouraging discovery of their own products).

Brands should also look to move with the times – what do their customers (or would-be customers) care about right now? For example, one of the key worries for many consumers is trying to be more sustainable, less wasteful, and generally more conscious of where their ingredients come from. If your brand has something relevant to say on these sorts of issues, or it has some sort of story to tell, make sure to establish a place in the conversation through offering a comment or voice of authority.



Brands that share similar functional benefits with their rivals must consider the emotional role they can play. How can your brand solve consumers’ problems? How can you become the wingman? Playing on a brand’s emotional benefits will drive differentiation. Finding that crucial connection with your consumer will drive loyalty, make them feel more positive towards your brand and ultimately trigger sales.