Shades of value at lunch

October 07, 2011

Generations differ in what they buy for lunch - price matters most to Millennials. Boomers think about health and food quality too.

Supermarkets that want their share of the lunch crowd – either through food trucks, prepared-food satellites, or opportune store locations that can lure dense numbers of weekday workers – should tailor efforts with an understanding of the value consumers seek at the midday meal.

For example, Millennials age 18-34 are the heaviest users of foodservices at lunchtime, and they're the likeliest to build meals with well-priced 'value' items. By contrast, Baby Boomers also driven by health and food quality are, "Less likely to perceive value in dollar menu items because of the broader context of their motivations," said Technomic director of consumer research Sara Monnette, upon release of the firm's Lunch Consumer Trend Report. 

A few highlights of the Technomic study of 1,500 consumers:
•    Fast, portable, inexpensive lunch options rule during the week. Customization and fresh preparation are more important on weekends.
•    More brown-bagging during the week still leaves room for 35% of consumers polled to buy lunch from an eatery two or more times per week. Overall, one-third of lunch occasions include food from restaurants or other foodservice site.
•    Most consumers skip lunch at least once a week; about two-thirds replace it with a snack at least once a week. Smaller-portioned and better-for-you options could suit this trend.
•    47% primarily visit the same few familiar restaurants at lunch, but two out of five order a wide variety of foods at these places.
•    Low trans fat (43%), sustainable (40%) and low-sugar (32%) choices are important/extremely important when choosing a foodservice lunch item.  Operators that identify the claims most relevant to their customers and market them can advance a healthful, responsible image.
•    Combo meals in different forms can offer different appeals. While traditional entrée-side-beverage combos are most familiar and most preferred, operators that offer mix and match (two or more items from a longer menu) or half-portion pairings (soup and salad or sandwich) bring greater variety and customization and can appeal more to women, who generally eat less.