Welcome to our Lunchtime feature. Choose a sandwich. Choose a microwaveable hot snack. Choose a super food treat. Choose cheese and crackers… Whatever you fancy, most of us like to take a break and grab a bite in the middle of the working day, making lunchtime a golden opportunity for food retailers of all kinds.
According to Mintel’s trendspotting October 2015 report on Attitudes towards Lunchtime Foods, by this time last year wage increases had finally started to outpace inflation. Mintel’s Senior Foodservice Analyst Helena Childe felt this development “should translate into a greater willingness to buy lunch out of home more often, to trade up to premium options, and to buy extras such as snacks, drinks and desserts.”

In a note of restraint she added that the long economic slowdown meant that frugal spending habits had become deeply engrained and foodservice operators and by implication, food retailers too still needed to work hard to convince people that there’s a good reason to trade up. “Even if people are prepared to spend more, the focus is still on getting the best possible value for their money.”

A year later, commenting on Mintell’s October 2016 report on the same subject, Trish Caddy, Foodservice Analyst also flagged up consumers’ reservations about forking out for food at lunchtime: “While the majority of UK adults still buy lunch out of home, an increase in non-users suggests a cautious mind-set as real incomes come under pressure. Restaurants innovate in ordering management technology to rival their graband- go competitors for the custom of increasingly timepoor consumers. C-store formats and supermarkets that utilise cheaper staff and ingredients and sell grab-andgo food at higher margins than restaurants compete on price by offering healthy and low-cost meal deals in a bid to drive up spend. Consumers’ willingness to eat packed lunches bodes well for meal kits that focus more heavily on fresh and natural ingredients.”

What remains constant is that consumers are generally time-poor and need nutritious solutions. In Mintel’s words, “the market is ruled by the major supermarkets having strong grab-and-go offerings.” A look across the shelves in Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Marks & Spencer shows the innovation in the out-of-home sector with everything from meal deals to layered salads in jars without breaking the £4 ceiling. Such inventive flavours lead supermarkets to encroach into specialists’ territory. Brexit, Trump… whatever else may happen happens in our uncertain world, you can be sure our lunchtime appetites aren’t going away any time soon.

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