LUNCH TIME – Out to lunch – Money to spend but pushed for time

It’s lunchtime – time to escape from the workplace, grab a bite and recharge the batteries. That’s the theory. The good news is, British workers have more money in their pockets to spend on lunch than a few years ago. But the bad news is, they have less time. As pressures of work and anxieties about job security go on growing, we generally take less than the full lunch hour of old. All too many of us eat our lunch at our desks. Only one in five UK employees take the traditional hour-long lunch break, and most workers take less than half an hour.

chazThe retailers have responded with their usual energy. In recent years UK multiple grocers, from supermarkets to co-ops and convenience store chains, have gone after the ‘grab and go’ lunchtime opportunity at the front of store. It’s a key part of variable merchandising, depending on the time of day. But there’s still a long way to go.

Coming back to the economic background, in the words of Helena Childe, Senior Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, wage increases have started to outpace inflation, translating to a greater willingness to trade up to premium options, and buy extras such as snacks, drinks and desserts. But the long slowdown over recent years means that frugal spending habits have become deeply engrained.

Driving lunchtime spending at the premium end, high street sandwich chains like Pret, and Subway have been charging top prices successfully for many years, and the grocery retailers have followed suit and now offer similar premium products alongside the cheaper staples. Everyone needs to eat, and consumers are resigned to paying the going rate for sandwiches and drinks, but it’s a price sensitive market.

According to Mintel, although a fifth of people who eat at lunchtime prefer sandwiches made for them on the spot in a café or sandwich bar, rather than pre-packed ones, only 8% believe it’s worth paying over the odds for the privilege.

The alternative to buying expensive sandwiches and taking time out is to have a hot treat in the office. With growing numbers of workplaces supplying a microwave for staff, lunchtime eating at work is a clear opportunity for manufacturers of soup and other foods that can be prepared and ready to eat in a few minutes with minimum fuss, including the market-leading Rustlers microwaveable hot snacks from Kepak Convenience Foods.