Industry News | February 22, 2012

Consumers Trading Restaurant Lunches for Brown Bags

Spurred by the lingering effects of the recession, consumers are cutting back on away-from-home lunch purchases.


More than a third of respondents (37 percent) say they've cut back on foodservice spending at lunch over the past year, and 31 percent say they are eating lunch at home more often.

Lunch remains an important daypart for the foodservice industry, as 41 percent of consumers purchase lunch from a restaurant or other foodservice location at least once a week.

"Consumers are cutting back on away-from-home lunches primarily to save money," says Technomic Director of Consumer Research Sara Monnette.

"Consumers across all age groups consider cost, value and specials when purchasing lunch at a restaurant. Restaurants can appeal to these consumers seeking value and help justify costs through higher quality and added convenience such as faster service."

To help operators and others aligned with the foodservice industry more effectively identify opportunities for growth and competitive advantage, Technomic developed the Canadian Lunch Consumer Trend Report.

Select findings include:

  • Most consumers skip lunch at least once a week and 66 percent replace the meal with snacks at least once a week. Operators can likely appeal to consumers who frequently replace lunch with snacks by offering a greater selection of smaller-portioned and better-for-you options.


  • Consumers are very brand loyal at lunch. Almost half (48 percent) say they primarily visit the same few familiar restaurants at lunch.


  • 40 percent of consumers say they eat a wide variety of foods for lunch, suggesting that variety and customization options remain important ways for operators to keep customers coming back.


  • A quarter of consumers call for more globally inspired food at lunch. Ethnic foods and flavors will not only appeal to these consumers, but also add variety and breadth to menus.


  • 44 percent of consumers polled say they are always careful about how much they spend at restaurants for lunch and 42 percent expect some type of value/dollar menu.


  • Limited- and full-service restaurants are taking cues from one another to emphasize value and variety at lunch; LSRs are serving larger portions or "more for your money" while FSRs have value menus and express concepts that focus on speed.


The 2012 Canadian Lunch Consumer Trend Report is a comprehensive guide to the lunch daypart. The Menu, Marketing and Concept Trends sections detail industry trends shaping lunch.

The Consumer Insights section highlights results from 1,000 consumers, revealing information about lunch consumption, purchasing behavior, attitudes, and preferences. The Competitive Insights section identifies what consumers find most appealing about the lunch options at more than 35 leading limited- and full-service chains.


In my opinion, calorie counts in lunch are as much to blame as cost.Walk into any QSR restaurant and their headline menu items are almost universally in excess of 1,000 calories. Add a side dish and chips and you've come close to blowing your daily calorie recommendation.When these providers start promoting their smaller options (many of which are there but just not promoted because thay are typically lower margin), consumers who care as much about their waistline as their wallet will consider eating out again.

I stopped eating at Panera until they posted calories on the board - now that I know it is not all terrible and can make informed decisions I go back there probably once a week whereas I stopped going for basically three years, and even before never had a frequency that high.

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