Lunchtime is looking healthy

Despite leading busier lives, the British are not foregoing their lunchbreaks. The lunch market promises much potential for companies prepared to innovate

Many would assume that the hectic lives that we lead nowadays would have meant more of us skipping lunch to save some precious time, choosing instead to snack through the day. On the contrary, according to Mintel’s latest Lunchtime Eating Habits report, which shows that only eight per cent of adults regularly skip lunch.

The trend for retaining the lunchtime break is also highlighted in Eurest’s The Lunchtime Report 2000. The report finds people are taking the longest lunch break in a decade – an average of 36 minutes. Also, the number of people who never take a lunch break has gone down from 29 per cent recorded in 1997 to 18 per cent in 2000.

So it seems that even for people with busy and time-pressured lives, lunch is an important meal of the day. Mintel believes that this could be because of the decline of the traditional British cooked breakfast.

According to the Mintel research, 54 per cent of adults aged over 15 ate lunch outside the home in 2001- the equivalent of 26.2 million consumers. Spending per head amounted to an average &£4.11 per week, or an estimated &£5.6bn in 2001. This represents about 24 per cent of the total eating-out market.

The majority of those not eating lunch are from the 35to 44and 55to 64-year-old age groups, and tend to be lower income C2Ds living in the South or Yorkshire/North-east region. People who regularly skip lunch primarily live in the South, and are 20 to 24 years old. This reinforces the image of the more time-pressured, always-in-a-rush lifestyle of those living in the South although, interestingly, Londoners do not fit this profile.

Mintel forecasts that over the next five years, the biggest demographic change in the UK population will take place among the 55to 64-year-olds. The number of people in this ‘post-family’ lifestage is forecast to increase by 7.6 per cent by 2005. This group tends to eat lunch at home or make packed lunches, choosing not to eat out or buy ready-prepared food. The opportunity therefore exists for operators in the lunch market to target these people with special promotions and products to encourage a change in their eating habits.

Furthermore, the number of teenagers is forecast to increase, which will please the fast food giants, as this is the key market which supports their sales growth and outlet expansion plans.

Lunchtime consumer habits finds that 50 per cent of people eat a snack for lunch rather than a full cooked meal. However, only 47 per cent of men agreed with this, preferring (20 per cent) a more substantial meal. Men also do not check their calorie intake – only two per cent do so – or look for a healthy option (13 per cent). Most (59 per cent) agreed that their main meal is in the evening, rising to 61 per cent for women, showing that some men have a full meal for lunch as well as in the evening.

Fifteen per cent of consumers agree they are more likely to eat out at lunchtime at the weekend than during the week, when time is less of an issue and family can be included.

Just over a third of consumers tend to eat the same type of food for lunch and 23 per cent tend to buy it from the same place. This could indicate a lack of choice, or that most people are creatures of habit, as only 16 per cent say they look for interesting or different foods for lunch.

The older age groups are more likely to always look for healthy options for lunch and check their calorie intake. The young and old show very similar patterns in their daily meals content compared with other age groups. Those aged 15 to 24 years old and over 65 are more likely to eat a full meal for lunch than other age groups, although the two groups also showed themselves to be happy to eat snacks at lunchtime.

For companies in the lunchtime food market there is positive news in the forecast growth of the more affluent ABC1s, who are key consumers in the eating-out market. They are not only the highest spenders, but they also eat out the most frequently, tending to select from a broad portfolio of eating-out venues to suit the time available and occasion.

Furthermore, with longer lunch breaks and only eight per cent of people regularly skipping lunch, prospects look good in the lunch food market. High levels of inflation in the catering sector is likely to strip much of the growth in this market, but the six per cent increase in real terms represents a slow yet steady period of growth for lunch foods over the next four years.

Growth will largely be driven by new catering concepts. For example, sushi bars, noodle restaurants and soup bars have already been successful in moving people away from the traditional lunchtime sandwich.

It is important, however, that service is relatively swift, as well as of high quality as, despite the longer lunch breaks, time is at a premium during the day.

There will continue to be a strong demand for the traditional lunchtime outlets such as sandwich shops, but product innovation, such as new and exotic fillings, is vital to this as consumers’ expectations of the quality of food they eat increases. The good news is that with the growing affluence of consumers, they will be prepared to pay higher prices for premium ranges.

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