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We got a lot of reaction to our commentary last week in which we expressed our opinion of a story in The Wall Street Journal about how it may be more expensive to eat at home than eat out. The WSJ reported that the yuppies who are taking up cooking tend to be using recipes that call for expensive mushrooms, gourmet olive oils, and pricey cuts of meat – all of which add up to do-it-yourself meal solutions that can be a problem for the bank account.

We were more than a little annoyed by the story, because it was so limited in its scope (to the “damned yuppies”) and shortsighted in its views. Plenty of people are eating at home more because of the down economy, but are doing so by using consumer packaged goods that have been designed to help them feed themselves and their families economically. The beef or seafood that they are choosing isn’t necessarily coming from gourmet stores, but from traditional, mainstream supermarkets that survive on the notion that good food can be made available to virtually everyone at affordable prices. Putting supper on the table, for most people, isn’t the enormous production that the WSJ suggested…especially for the 85 percent of Americans that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) reports ate home-cooked meals at home three or more times a week during the past year, compared to 74 percent a year earlier.

One member of the MNB community wrote:

“Damn Yuppies, huh? I agree with you wholeheartedly, Kevin. I'm 55 yrs old now, and I've cooked for myself, out of necessity, all my life. I'm one of those people who think about VALUE a lot. Eating out all the time isn't only boring, it's costly (I prefer that word to expensive), and the cost is not worth the benefit. There aren't a lot of really good, healthy, reasonably priced places to eat close to home, so I've chosen to prepare my own meals most of the time. Creatively, too, I might add. If you really listen to the good cooks on TV (PBS or HGTV), they'll all say at least something about simple, fresh ingredients. Never mind the Foie-gras, the Morels, or the Black Truffles. Yeah, you can bring out the big guns for something special like the holidays, but on a daily basis, cooking at home vs. visiting a dining establishment, just makes more sense. Somebody missed the mark in the WSJ article . . . perhaps the editors should look beyond the shores of Manhattan to the rest of the world. Maybe some people are whipping up something elaborate with ‘fabulous’ ingredients, but for the most part it's just what you said, ‘Getting dinner on the table.’ Aren't they paying attention to shopping trends? Why would there be so much interest in discount houses, fresh produce, quality & affordable meats, etc., if it weren't to fuel the interest in home cooking, AND at a price. People go to Sam's Club because you can get all the goodies at a low price. Well, maybe not Foie-gras, but you get the picture.”

MNB user Dan Raftery of Prime Consulting wrote:

“There's more to it than that. The FMI statistic covers the total population, as you've indicated. One of the demographic groups - Boomers - is cooking for fun now. Ask the folks at Calphalalon who's buying their stuff. The old pots and pans are finally being replaced by equipment that simply works a whole lot better.

“Entertaining now often revolves around the kitchen, where a fiftysomething cooking hobbyist and his/her friends get back to a simpler life. The food may be more expensive than the normal fare, but it is not as expensive as eating out. The WSJ article is simply an example of selective "analysis."

“Note: I have not researched this behavior beyond my circle of friends.”

Sometimes research isn’t as important as good old common sense. And Dan makes a lot of it.

MNB user Don Sutton wrote:

“Actually what both you and WSJ missed was the probability that many of the yuppies cooking with expensive components were probably making cheaper versions of more expensive items they had been ordering in upscale yuppie eateries. They're still saving if you add in a more relevant perspective.”

We have two words for anyone who thinks that ordering meals in a restaurant is less expensive than making it at home:

Wine list.

And MNB user Norma Gilliam wrote:

“I believe what is driving people to cook more at home is the fact that since 9/11 more families are sticking closer to home and have a renewed value of family time. The dinner meal is a natural place for them to come together. Cooking at home for the ‘average’ middle income family can still mean convenience with all the ready-to-cook or heat and eat items available today. People are also entertaining friends and family more at home as well. Many families have skipped vacation trips and spent time closer to home (on day trips). Sure, the down economy may have some effect on these numbers, but overall families are simply spending more time together with a renewed emphasis on the dinner meal.”

Norma also was nice enough to write:

“Are you actually getting any sleep? Your ‘early’ wake up call was pretty early this morning…you appear to be going 24/7. I have enjoyed your travel notes very much!”

We’ve enjoyed writing them. (And yes, we’re getting some sleep. Not a helluva lot, but enough. Thanks for asking.)

Onto other matters…

Last week we wrote about the estimable D&W Food Centers, and lauded the young woman at the coffee counter there who asked a customer, “Will you have your usual?” Our note: the words “the usual,” when uttered by an associate to a customer, are magical, because they imply a connection that resonates with the shopper.

MNB user Scott Schnell of the Nestle Purina Product Technology Center agreed:

“Your comment about "the usual" is so right on target! In our town, we have two super pharmacies. We patronize one because of its 24 hr format, but waiting in line while 7 worker-bees do whatever gets to be a pain. And then no one recognizes you at the counter and there is no "usual" to the experience. We have talked about switching pharmacies to one of the supermarkets or Wal-Mart (where our old Osco staff has had to find jobs when Osco pulled out), but the 24 hr format is a big draw and the stability of the supermarkets seems in doubt right now.

“A personalized experience would help anywhere.”

There’s the challenge, folks.

Following up on our stories about Superquinn’s SuperScan program, allowing customers to scan items as they go into the shopping cart, MNB user Lois Bredow wrote:

“Recently, I cannot for the life of me remember where, I was in a check-out line that was growing long. An employee appeared with a hand-held scanner. She proceeded to scan items in people's carts and hand them a slip to give to the cashier to speed up the process. Now there is an idea whose time has come.”


Anybody know what retailer this might have been?
KC's View: