Millennials are the heaviest users of restaurants/foodservice options at lunch, but they're also the most likely age group to rely on "value" items for luncheon meals, according to a new Lunch Consumer Trend Report from foodservice industry consultancy/research firm Technomic, Inc.
"Baby Boomers are motivated heavily by value, but other significant motivations include health and quality of food," explains Technomic Director of Consumer Research Sara Monnette. "The most health-conscious consumers skew 45 and older, so their value equation is different than that of a younger person who sees value primarily as a price issue. Older consumers are less likely to perceive value in dollar menu items because of the broader context of their motivations."
At the same time, one-third or more of adults overall indicate that various better-for-you options and sustainability are important or extremely important to them when choosing lunch items in restaurants/foodservice venues.
Specifically, these are the percentages of adults indicating that various healthier options are important or extremely important in their lunch choices: low in trans fat, 43%; low-sugar, 32%; low-cholesterol, 32%; low-fat, 31%; and "natural," 30%.
Sustainability also seems to be a particularly key choice factor at lunchtime: 40% indicate "sustainable" as being important/extremely important in their menu choices.
Technomic's conclusions: While restaurant/foodservice operators need to determine which of these factors are most relevant to their customers, they may well benefit from offering a range of options that appeal both to traditional and "health-halo" motivators, as well as from using some sustainable sourcing and promoting these ingredients.
Other findings from the research, conducted among 1,500 U.S. adults:
*Despite saying that they have increasingly been bringing lunches from home during the week, more than one-third (35%) of respondents still report purchasing lunch from a restaurant or other foodservice location at least twice a week. Also, roughly one-third of all lunch occasions include food from restaurants/foodservice venues.
*Adult consumers as a whole confirm that during the week, fast, portable and inexpensive lunch options are top priorities when buying lunches. On the weekend, lunchtime preferences shift: Consumers pay more attention to customization and fresh preparation than other attributes.
*More than half of consumers indicate that they skip lunch at least once a week, and about two-thirds say they replace lunch with a snack at least once a week. Operators likely can appeal to consumers who frequently replace lunch with snacks by offering a greater selection of smaller-portioned and better-for-you options, notes Technomic.
*Nearly half (47%) report that they primarily visit the same few familiar restaurants at lunch. However, two out of five nevertheless report that they eat a wide variety of foods for lunch. The takeaway: Offering variety and customization options continues to be very important.
* Traditional combo meals (an entrée, side and beverage) are preferred by most men (53%) and women (45%) alike because of these meals' familiarity, convenience and value. However, 28% of men and 29% of women say that they prefer a "mix-and-match" menu (choosing two or more items from a longer menu). In addition, 13% of men and 22% of women say that they prefer half-portion pairings (such as soup and salad or a sandwich).