EUROPE: Making a meal of snacking

Europeans’ meal times are becoming more fragmented: they are ditching their main meals in favour of snacking at work, or eating out in restaurants

For most Europeans, life is increasingly hectic, their meal-times are fragmenting and they are snacking more often. Although convenience and efficiency are evidently the emerging preferences of people’s meal patterns, the desire for an experience, the need to escape and the need to interact socially are also becoming greater.

Datamonitor’s recent report Changing Mealtimes shows that people rushing their meals in different locations is only part of the picture. The key change occurring is a transformation in people’s attitudes towards meals. Essentially people increasingly treat meals as flexible “time-spends”, but the concept of time and benefit for consumers varies. As a result, a portfolio of occasion-types is emerging.

Nowadays, fewer people eat regular meals at home or with the family. This reflects the fact that a more hectic, individual and stressful lifestyle is becoming increasingly common. Eating on -the-move, so-called desk-dining, informal café lunches and restaurant dining are all indicative of how consumers are eating at different times, in different places.

Most people skip breakfast: according to Datamonitor’s research, of the three basic meals a day, breakfast accounts for the lowest share of food and drink spend in any country – only 5.5 per cent of all consumers in Europe sat down for breakfast in 2001.

Lunch is the meal that most Europeans eat. However, the significance of lunch is on the decline. Traditionally, lunch has been the main meal of the day for the majority of people, yet only 47 per cent of the respondents in Datamonitor’s consumer research said this was their typical main meal, compared with 49 per cent saying dinner was the main meal. This illustrates the strong time-pressures surrounding lunch, particularly for urban workers across Europe.

Dinner is missed marginally more often than lunch, yet this meal is considered an important occasion as most people do eat dinner. The biggest change in attitudes towards dinner is that over the past five years more people dining out.

Datamonitor predicts that over the next five years, meals will increasingly give way to snacking. On average, each European will eat 11 fewer meals a year by 2006. However, they will snack on average 19 more times a year to compensate for the change.

Despite an average 6.8 fewer breakfasts being eaten per person a year by 2006, the value of the breakfast market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of two per cent. Food service trends point to a growing number of operators seeking to expand their business in the morning.

The evening meal is expected to experience the strongest positive change in share of spend and the fastest market growth out of all the three meals. There will be strong growth in the dinner market, despite an overall drop in the number of dinners eaten.

This is because more Europeans, who traditionally eat lunch as the main meal, will shift their main meal to the evening and consequently the amount spent on dinner will increase. The strong trend towards eating out will continue, with a growing number of restaurant meals served in the evening.

As lifestyles become more hectic, people’s main meal will increasingly shift between breakfast, lunch and dinner to accommodate specific needs on a given day.

The change in meal patterns is more evolutionary than revolutionary, yet even small changes in the meals eaten by each person every year can – whether it is what people eat or how – represent opportunities and threats to retailers, manufacturers and restaurant operators.

As snacking becomes a more important source of our daily food intake, the nature of snacking can be expected to become less frivolous and more functional. Manufacturers and retailers will need to focus on providing consumers with a more varied and healthy range of food.

European retailers will need to target the workplace as it is a key place where people eat their meals, with 46 per cent of consumers indicating that they eat breakfast “elsewhere in the workplace” (therefore excluding staff canteens) on a regular basis.

Marketers will need to be aware of consumers’ greater willingness to shift their main meal to other times of the day, and therefore adapt what they offer to account for the changing purposes of the meals.

UK retailers will have to adapt their offerings to provide more hot food at lunchtime. Meanwhile, food service operators that focus extensively on one part of the day should consider realigning that focus to provide a balanced range of meals throughout the day.


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