What’s for Lunch: Trends and Insights to Inspire Innovation
What did you have for lunch yesterday? You’re not alone if you’ve forgotten your mid-day nosh, quickly eaten between meetings or Teams calls as you think about the next project, or continue working as you eat. Eating patterns, including lunch trends, have always evolved to fit our lifestyles. Lunch originated as an essential noontime meal to refuel after working five to six hours. But the ‘snackification’ trend and busy lifestyles contributed to the erosion of the traditional lunchtime break into mini-meals squeezed into early morning or late afternoon.
The Challenge (and Value) of Lunch
Eating behaviors changed during the pandemic shutdowns. Breakfast shifted from an on-the-go grain bar or fast-food sandwich gobbled in transit to cereal in a bowl topped with milk and eaten with a spoon. And more time at home led to a resurgence of baking and dinner prep. Lunch remained a challenge, with 4 in 10 Americans reporting they rarely took a break during the day while working remotely. About two-thirds of women said they worked straight through the day compared to 33% of men.
As the calendar turned past the third anniversary of the pandemic’s start, some activities reverted to pre-COVID times. We’re back to breakfast on the run, and fewer people are baking sourdough now. And while many people are back in offices and classrooms, lunch trends and mid-day eating habits are still in flux.
The Toast notes that lunch transactions are down across most major metropolitan areas. In some cities, the lunch daypart shrunk by more than 20% compared to the years preceding the pandemic. Some of the declines in lunch eating could reflect time crunches at work or a desire to protect budgets in an inflationary period. No matter the driving force, less frequent eating out means more opportunity for brands to deliver on at-home or at-the-desk lunch offerings.
The original purpose of lunch as fuel for the rest of the day is gaining renewed recognition as people strive for physical, emotional, and mental well-being. A recent workplace survey reports:
- 94% of employees feel happier with a lunch break during the workday because they have time to take a step back and get a fresh perspective.
- More than 9 in 10 workers and managers agree that a mid-day break is important to maintaining their mental focus, and most return to work feeling refreshed and re-energized.
- Most employees say they are more likely to stay at a company where bosses encourage them to take a lunch break.
In addition to wanting the time to eat lunch, people also seek different options to include in their lunch box or bag. Let’s explore lunch trends that can inspire your new food or beverage innovation, like nostalgia, health and wellness, cost savings, and continued work-from-home habits.
Appealing to People with Nostalgic Lunch Offerings
Many adults, especially those in the millennial generation, remember the excitement of a lunchable lunch day. Well, the grown-ups are now attempting to make their own “adultlunchables” on the social media apps like TikTok.
The EveryGirl gives examples of these adult multi-component lunch ideas: “think celery and ranch as a side one day, but an apple with peanut butter the next, while keeping the main portion the same.” And while we’re seeing a lot of DIY adultlunchables, brands are also pushing their own snack packs for the mid-day meal. Mintel shares sentiments from young adults across the US regarding the Lunchable concept:
- “It’s a huge nostalgia factor. I used to eat these a lot when I was younger, and sometimes I’ll still eat them just to see if they’re still as good as I remember them to be.” (Female, West, 18-24)
- “I would try this product myself for the nostalgia, but I also know my children would really enjoy it. It is also a quick fun meal to give my kids on a busy day.” (Female, South, 18-24)
Product Spotlight: Target’s Good & Gather Brand Charcuterie Bites offer the excitement of a Lunchable with the food offerings and claims desired by adults. (Mintel)
Finding Healthy, Budget-Friendly Ways to Connect with Consumers
Mintel predicts that people will continue to seek lower prices and budget-friendly foods and beverages for at least the next two years. But the desire for value doesn’t mean they’re willing to sacrifice on other needs, such as wellness benefits, satiety, and taste. People are increasingly looking for nutritious and well-balanced lunch options that feature more vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
So, how can brands enhance nutrition without breaking the bank? Mintel suggests incorporating ingredients such as protein and fiber to increase satisfaction, even in less traditionally ‘healthy’ foods like pizza.
Making Lunch at Home Easier and Exciting
In 2020, we were seeing news headlines like “70% of Americans preparing the majority of meals at home.” (Kansas State) But lunch preparation time is shrinking, and people are becoming weary of creating and cooking a full week’s menu. Food Navigator notes that the percentage of people who love or like cooking has dropped each year since 2020 from 24% to 2022 at 19%. So how can brands connect with people who still work in the home but don’t want to prepare full meals?
Enter frozen meals.
Mintel reports that 39% of prepared meal consumers in the US say they are eating more frozen meals than a year ago. They attribute the increase to more remote work and workplace fluidity. But the well-established frozen meals category is evolving as brands strive to find creative ways to entice buyers.
One innovation pathway is alignment with other food trends, like coveted health claims or international inspiration, for instance. Brands can take recognizable global favorites or offer desirable label claims as a way to connect with those still eating lunch in their home kitchens (or at their home desk).
Small Snacks, Big Flavor & Nutrition
We’ve covered snacking a few times over the past year or two (like here and here). Why the focus? Because eating trends show that people want smaller meals, sometimes even snacks, throughout the day instead of the traditional three-meal-a-day regimen. According to the 2022 Mondelez State of Snacking report, 64% of consumers surveyed across 12 countries reported preferring that lifestyle. (Nutritional Outlook)
Partner with FlavorSum to Inspire Your Midday Innovation
Leverage FlavorSum’s in-depth knowledge of flavors and product categories by teaming up with us for your upcoming lunchtime innovation! Collaborating with our team of flavor specialists can help you overcome development challenges and accelerate your journey to market success. Reach out to our team for further information and insights about lunch trends.