Global, family-owned food company Rich Products has released findings from a recent 2023 shopper insight study that found that small, food-centric gatherings with grazable options continue to rise in popularity amongst consumers, with 79% of those surveyed indicating they often try new and interesting foods during these times. Furthermore, the trend of small, at-home social gatherings has continued to persist post-pandemic, with over 58% preferring more intimate gatherings over large events.

While the shift to casual gatherings began before the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence has accelerated and evolved from larger special social occasions where food is present, to small entertainment-focused gatherings around TV shows, sports games, and game nights where food is a social catalyst. Rich’s survey found that food served at these events has not only become a forum for discovery, but also enticement for attendance and a conversation starter.

“Over time, home entertaining has shifted away from formal dinner parties to more casual social events with smaller, bite-sized food options, which not only impacts food and beverage buying behaviors, but also manifests in how and where people gather at home,” said Amanda Buonopane, senior manager of strategic insights at Rich Products. “For example, we’re seeing the ‘disappearing dining room’ trend among the younger generation. They prefer open floor plans with more flexibility for guests to grab a snack while socializing around the kitchen island.”

Other findings from the study:

Celebrations are getting smaller: Rich’s consumer tracking from September 2023 shows that only 38% of respondents took part in gatherings of over 10 people throughout the summer months, despite summer being a popular season for special occasions, like birthdays, graduations and more.

This behavioral shift will impact the holiday season as well. The Cleveland Research Company found that consumers plan to increase spending on at-home entertainment this year, with spending averaging $900 (up from $800 in 2022). Rich’s data reinforces this preference for home-based entertainment. The food company’s research of 2022 consumer behaviors around the holidays found that 40% of those surveyed prefer to spend more time staying in around the holidays.

Reasons for gathering are shifting: Consumers most commonly get together for no reason at all. At least 61% of consumers Rich’s surveyed cited casual get-togethers with friends as the most common events they attend (about twice a month or more), with 58% noting that they participate most frequently in laidback gatherings like barbecues, pool parties, and picnics.

On the other hand, major milestone celebrations are declining in popularity. Rich’s study found that 82% of respondents attend birthday or anniversary gatherings only once a month or less, with 44% admitting they rarely attend these major celebrations at all throughout the year.