Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=162396
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 3:14:31 PM CST
Food Web sites have seen a burst of traffic as wary consumers opt to stay in and try their hand at home cooking. Now comes a new twist. It appears young people who were cooking at home out of necessity have discovered it’s something they actually enjoy.
At the heart of this trend: social networking and other online platforms, which have made trading recipes and cooking tips more fun, and food television networks whose celebrity chefs glamorize cooking prowess.
“I’ve been watching cooking shows since I was nine. Back then I would flip on the television and it would be Julia Child on 'The French Chef' or Jacques Pepin, making complicated things that intrigued me,” said Tram Le, a 28-year-old registered dietician who runs the food blog Nutrition to Kitchen. Those classic styles are still around, but now there's a new generation of chefs and home cooks who, when you turn on the TV, are "constantly experimenting and rethinking ways to make food increasingly accessible..creative, easy and fun," Le added.
Many now look to the Web for recipes instead of flipping through cookbooks. The appeal is simple. Trolling the Internet is easy, free and taps into a more extensive database than any cookbook sitting on the shelf.
“It’s easy to find what you want based on your mood. With books you only get what you were in the mood for when you bought the book,” said Tim Chen, 32, a Chicago-based software engineer and avid home cook whose love affair with the kitchen began with the recession. Clearly, he’s not alone.
February visits to the top four food Web sites, which include foodnetwork.com and allrecipes.com, have risen 39 percent since 2007. In 2009, comScore Media Metrix logged 1.5 billion visits to food websites and 11 billion page views of food-centered subject matter. At the same time, restaurant sales dropped 2.9 percent last year and 1.2 percent in 2008, according to the National Restaurant Association.
The most visited food site in 2009 was Allrecipes.com, a 13-year veteran in the online recipe world that has posted annual double-digit growth over the last six years. The company reports more gains in 2010, with February logging the highest traffic volume ever – a 13 percent increase from the same month a year ago.
When Allrecipes polled survey participants last year on why they were cooking at home more, people responded with economy-related reasons.
Stephanie Robinett, director of communications at Allrecipes, said the answer this year was surprisingly different, that people were staying home to cook because they enjoyed cooking.
“I think that home cooking is definitely expanding,” Robinett said. “[We see people] participating with food social-networking sites, sending recipes to friends via Facebook, or emailing recipes to friends. The more technology becomes a part of cooking, the more the younger generation will start to take part in it.”
Chicago-based Kendall College also managed to boost interest in its recreational cooking classes through technology. A recent collaboration between the school and group discount site Groupon.com was “a hit,” according to Julie Mossler, Groupon’s public relations manager. Buyers bought 2,993 cooking classes in less than a day, saving almost half off on an $85 class.
“It actually worked very well in our favor. We had our consistent customer base, but with Groupon we’re able to reach out to whole new audiences,” said Terrell Johnson, the events director at Kendall.
The school has been able to double the number of classes it offers per month because of the new interest generated by the Groupon deal. Johnson added it is technology that enables the company to directly send messages to thousands in one day.
Another trend in the online food world is healthier cooking at home, versus restaurant meals with oversized portions.
Nutrition to Kitchen’s Le, for example, features healthier and cheaper ways to cook favorite recipes, such as a red velvet cupcake that costs about 55 cents to make at home, compared with bakery cupcakes that can sell for upwards of $3.50 each.
“I think personally that if you make your own food, it’s cheaper rather than going to a restaurant. It’s cheaper in the long run,” asserts the Hawaii-based blogger, if healthy cooking at home keeps people out of the doctor’s office.
Even though a huge drive of the home cooking boom is still frugality, the popular growth of home cooking may last beyond the recession, according to Bob Goldin, executive vice president at food consulting firm Technomic, Inc.
“I think consumers have discovered that cooking at home is not all that hard and saves money and I think it will have some stickiness,” Goldin said.