The lunch bunch is becoming more discriminating. That’s one of the primary takeaways from Technomic’s 2014 “Lunch Consumer Trend Report,” which found U.S. consumers increasingly are demanding more healthful lunch options away from home, better-quality fare and choices in portion sizes.
Some 80% of consumers polled for the report—up from 70% surveyed in 2011—said quality is important at lunch. And there can be real traffic implications of this for operators, consumers indicated: One third of consumers, for example (up from 28% three years ago), said they would purchase lunch from convenience stores more often, if the food were higher in quality.
Given that a majority of consumers (59%) rely on restaurants or other foodservice outlets for lunch at least once a week, how do operators maximize their midday menu appeal? To begin, they aim to offer something the place down the street doesn’t have.
Only 21% of consumers said they typically eat the same types of food for lunch every day, and three in 10 said it’s important to them that an item they purchase for lunch from a foodservice outlet be unique. That last figure, too, reflects an increase from 2011: Three years ago, uniqueness of lunch offerings was a priority for 22% of consumers.
For manufacturers, crafting lunch choices that deliver familiar flavors in nontraditional formats (say, a Buffalo chicken flatbread) or out-of-the-ordinary tastes, in an easily recognizable form (a burrito made with curried chicken), is likely to be a win. Notable with respect to the latter point is that 35% of consumers said they would like to see restaurants offer more ethnic items and flavors at lunch.
Offering new/improved, better-for-you options also may lead to success. Just 28% of consumers said restaurants do a good job at lunch of offering foods they consider to be healthy—this despite the fact that nearly double the share (55%) said it’s important to them to choose a healthy lunch item away from home on weekdays.
What does “healthy” look like for consumers? For some, it means vegetarian or vegan options—both of these were mentioned when consumers were asked the open-ended question, “Are there any types of foods, beverages or flavors you would like to see offered more at restaurants during lunch?”
Portion choices, too, are likely to resonate with two key groups of guests: 1) health-seeking consumers paying attention to calories, fat, refined carbs, sodium, etc.; and 2) taste explorers eager to try multiple dishes at one meal. More than one third of consumers (including 40% of women) said they try to eat a lighter lunch during the week than on the weekend, and 29% said they expect restaurants to offer smaller portions at lunch.
New and unique tastes, served up in multiple portion sizes (half-sandwiches, sandwich-and-salad combos) can provide the kind of differentiation that spurs repeat visits and purchases—and builds brand loyalty.