October 2011/Prepared Foods -- Most consumers forego eating lunch as a full meal at least once a week, and many of them do so for health reasons, often seeking healthy snacks to fill the void.
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According to Technomic’s “Lunch Consumer Trend Report,” just 48% of those polled say they never skip lunch. Overall, the typical consumer will miss lunch by either replacing it with snacks or skipping it altogether once or twice in a given week. Roughly two in five consumers polled say they replace lunch with snacks one or two days a week, compared to just 34% of consumers who skip lunch this frequently.

At the high end of the spectrum, 8% of consumers say they eat snacks instead of lunch on a daily basis. Beyond this, nearly a quarter of consumers (23%) replace lunch with snacks between three and six times each week, and two in five (40%) do it just one or two days a week. Although primarily driven by time and convenience factors, many of these consumers also adhere to this behavior as a way to eat healthy.

Consumers who sometimes skip lunch were further asked about their reasons for this behavior. Roughly half of these consumers (52%) say they skip lunch simply because they are not hungry. About a quarter (26%) says that there is no particular reason why they skip lunch, and 23% cite a lack of appealing options. These findings suggest that, while consumers undoubtedly would rather eat lunch than skip it, their leading reasons for skipping lunch center on not being hungry or simply not wanting to eat lunch.

However, many consumers indicate health considerations can lead them to skip lunch. Three in 10 (30%) cite a desire to eat less or lose weight as a reason for skipping lunch. Another 7% indicate they skip lunch because they do not think there are enough healthy options available. Positioning items as better-for-you, through callouts to fresh or local ingredients, may help to persuade some of these health-conscious consumers to skip lunch less often.

Consumers indicate health also plays a strong role in the decision to replace lunch with snacks. About a third (34%) of those who sometimes eat snacks instead of lunch indicate they are trying to eat less or lose weight. This is considerably higher than the 29% of consumers who skip lunch that say they are trying to eat less or lose weight as their reason for skipping.

The findings suggest a possible opportunity for health-based lunch marketing initiatives. Consumers’ idea of health is increasingly based on balance, moderation and the addition of nutritious foods, instead of limiting unhealthy food and skipping meals altogether. Operators and manufacturers alike may want to consider a marketing message that emphasizes a light, healthy, balanced lunch through small portions of better-for-you items. For instance, Au Bon Pain’s Portions menu offers customers their pick of an assortment of low-calorie, smaller-portioned items, such as Apple, Bleu Cheese and Cranberries; Brie, Fruit and Crackers; and Hummus and Cucumber.