PITTSBURGH – Arnisha Keyes admits she’s no Rachael Ray. Until recently, she spent $30 a day to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at restaurants.
But recent high prices have her testing her cooking skills to save money, packing lunch for work and experimenting with dinner salads by microwaving frozen vegetables, mixing them with spinach and pouring ranch dressing on top.
Keyes’ cooking ventures aren’t unusual. They’re part of a national trend to eat at home to save money, according to market research firms. But after years of eating out, many people have found they don’t have a pot to cook in or a cookbook to guide them.
The sudden rush to buy basic cooking necessities has driven up sales of cookbooks, inexpensive cookware and the basic foods needed to concoct a meal. And cooking magazines and Web sites are booming even as magazine sales overall have suffered.
About 45 percent of Americans are eating out less this year to save money, a nearly 12 percent increase from 2007, according to BIGResearch, a Worthington, Ohio-based firm that does consumer research.
“Consumers are really pulling back right now. They’re really watching their pockets,” said one of the firm’s senior analysts, Pam Goodfellow.
Keyes said her co-workers at Pittsburgh’s Youth Places after-school program have also started eating at home. So when she had to find a door prize for a staff meeting, Keyes, 37, chose a $5.98 cookbook at Barnes and Noble.
“I noticed that even young people at church and at work are trying to get back to cooking,” she said.
Cookware sales overall have declined in the past year, but items selling for less than $100 are doing “remarkably well,” said Florence Sheffer, spokeswoman for the cookware distributor Meyer Corp. in Vallejo, Calif. Cast-iron cookware in that price category, for instance, has recorded a 19 percent sales increase over a year ago, the most popular being those with celebrity chef name tags.
“That suggests to me there are probably a lot of new cooks entering, because I think a lot of the people watching the Food Network … are really just opening up to the idea of cooking,” Sheffer said.
Further evidence is a boost in sales of “center store” items in supermarkets – pasta, canned goods, baking goods and spices. Sales of such items have risen by 3.4 percent in recent months, said Thom Blischok, president of IRI Consulting and Innovation in Chicago.
Bon Appetit, a magazine that serves up recipes for both gourmet meals and fast and easy dinners, said newsstand sales in May 2008 were up 39 percent from a year ago. And many bookstores have reported boosts in cookbook sales.
Borders Group Inc. said cookbook sales were up in the second quarter of this year, which ended in June, over the first quarter. Amazon.com has seen double-digit growth in book sales in the food, cooking and wine category during this past year, said spokeswoman Tammy Hovey.
Mary Davis, a Borders corporate affairs manager, said sales of “comfort food cookbooks” covering baking, cookies and desserts have seen double-digit sales increases in the past year.
“These are dishes that require a time commitment to prepare and bake, suggesting people are staying at home,” she said.