Dinnertime is still important to many families and the recession has only served to reinforce this, says Anne Murphy

In recent times it has become fashionable to proclaim the death of the family meal. The perception is that we're a nation of couch potatoes who eat unhealthy meals in front of the television, or on the run. Birds Eye has been part of the British mealtime for the past 70 years, helping families to put good food on the table every day, so we asked ourselves, could general assumptions about the demise of the family mealtime be incorrect?

Yes, according to a report from Oxford University, the results of which were released this week. It revealed that for the vast majority of us, sitting down to eat as a family is not the dying tradition we thought it was in fact, on the contrary, 67% of UK adults eat a meal with their family at least three times a week and 61% of people do this around a table not in front of the television, as many may believe.

The report is the first in a series of unique academic partnerships from Birds Eye, which looks to the future to ensure we are developing at the same rate our consumer is evolving. While enabling us to gain a better understanding of the modern family mealtime, the report has also uncovered how attitudes to food, nutrition and table manners have changed.

Assessing the impact of the recession on the way we shop, cook and eat has been a key contributor to future product development. Not surprisingly, our report found a continuing trend towards a more frugal and thoughtful approach to food and shopping, with 43% of consumers planning meals more carefully and looking to cut down on waste.

The question for brands and retailers is: will this new 'frugal' consumer be a continuing trend? At Birds Eye, we believe it will be. And with 16% of parents citing more family time as a positive side effect of the recession, we think this careful and considered consumer will bring an increased focus on more traditional values.

While we continue to value family meals, how we shop, cook and eat has clearly evolved over generations. The 'Jamie Oliver effect' is obviously taking hold, with 98% of parents saying talking to their children about healthy eating is important. Many of us (63%) really love cooking, but time is often a barrier and 33% of us say lack of confidence also gets in the way. For today's family, putting good food on the table can be a struggle and it is up to brands such as Birds Eye to continue to provide an evolving range of products that taste great, are healthy and, importantly, are convenient to prepare.

Convenience foods do have a place in today's household, with 29% of respondents eating a ready meal at least a few times per week. Pleasingly for Birds Eye, the equivalent of five million people have started buying more frozen food in the past six to 12 months, for reasons as diverse as cutting waste, value and innovation.

All of this is good news for brands and retailers, but we must ensure we stay close to our consumers to ensure we are providing for changing needs. The long-trumpeted decline in family time and dining together is certainly overstated. While we face many different challenges in the world today, it looks as though the fabric of society the family in many cases remains important to our routines. Long may we gather as a family unit, no matter what that looks like, to enjoy a meal and conversation.n

Anne Murphy is general manager of Birds Eye