Three Generations of Cooks in the Kitchen

Find out who’s cooking and who’s not
By Erin Gallagher
October 15, 2010

A 20-something-year-old colleague of mine says Rachael Ray is to her generation what Julia Childs was to Baby Boomers—with a twist. In the 1960s, home cooks knew who “Julia” was without anyone mentioning her last name. Like Madonna in the music world.

Rachael may not yet be able to go by her first name alone, but she and other celebrity chefs are media empires. They don’t just publish cookbooks. They host their own talk shows. They star in reality cooking shows. And some, like Jamie Oliver, are using their celebrity status to make a difference, by teaching school children in America and Britain about healthy food choices.

Simply put, today’s chefs can achieve the status of rock stars. And like rocks stars they have people who aspire to be just like them. An increasingly popular career choice for graduating high school seniors is culinary school. Enrollment at many of these schools is skyrocketing.

This trend was reflected in the interviews conducted by RICKI, the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence, with nearly 3,000 consumers. The results demonstrate that cooking is a much-loved pastime, particularly among younger Americans.

RICKI analyzed survey data to pinpoint statistically meaningful differences between three generations of American consumers:

• Millennials: 18 to 29 year olds (total respondents= 796
• Generation X: 30 to 44 year olds (total respondents = 935)
• Baby Boomers: 45 to 64 year olds (total respondents = 1,175)

The goal of the study was to provide an understanding of the mindsets of the three generations as they relate to cooking and the home kitchen. The analysis highlights each generation’s attitudes, influences and expectations to help provide insight for marketing strategy, product development, potential innovations, and other areas of business. This article reveals some of the insights uncovered.


Respondents of all ages were asked a series of questions about preparing meals and entertaining in their kitchens. The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to plan meals and entertain in their kitchens.

Millennials, sometimes referred to as Gen Y or Echo Boomers, are more likely than their older counterparts to experiment with new recipes. Forty-two percent of Millennial respondents try a new recipe three or more times a month versus 32 percent of Gen Xers and 29 percent of Baby Boomers.

On the other hand, Boomers are more likely than their younger cohorts to prepare dinner from scratch, mostly cooking tried and true dishes. Nearly 38 percent of Boomers say they prepare dinner from scratch five or more days a week compared with around 30 percent of respondents in each of the younger generations.

Engagement in the kitchen is further illustrated by levels of agreement with particular lifestyle statements. When asked how well a group of statements describe their feelings about cooking and their kitchens, the generations appear more similar than different. However, their attitudes diverge on a key indicator that gauges their enthusiasm for cooking. The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to agree that this statement describes them “completely”: I love to cook and I’m always trying new recipes.

So while cooking has not yet achieved rock star status, it is a popular pastime for younger Americans.


While marketers tend to focus on the enormous size and buying power of the Boomer segment, the size of the Millennial segment rivals that of Boomers, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures (79 million and 76 million, respectively). That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

Kitchen and bath marketers should keep in mind that the three dominant generations of consumers bring different experiences and expectations with them to the cash register. When trying to capture the attention of these segments, marketing strategy as well as product development should focus on the motivations and attitudes of each generation to differentiate brands and boost retailer, designer and showroom revenue.

And rock on.

—Erin Gallagher is Chief of Insights at the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI), an independent, membership-based organization of manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and publications whose revenues come from sales related to activities that take place in the kitchen, including kitchen remodeling. Find out more at www.kitchenintelligence.org.
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