Weekday lunches carried from home reached a new high last year, increasing to 38 per capita from 35 in the previous year, according to a new study from The NPD Group, "How Brown Bagging Is Affecting Food Service Lunch." That translated to 8.5 billion bagged lunches per year for adults.
Meanwhile, between March and May of this year, the number of consumers who reported eating out at lunch was flat with the same period last year, according to NPD VP Harry Balzer.
Among consumers who typically brown-bag, nearly half said they are doing so more often. More than a third of consumers who brown-bag lunches do so three times per week or more, and in the middle of the week rather than on Monday or Friday.
Balzer says that brown-bagging momentum is one more economically driven factor discouraging restaurant lunching, along with erosion of disposable income, growing unemployment and a slowdown in the number of women entering the workforce. The vast majority of consumers who are brown-bagging more cited saving money as a reason for doing so (93%).
However, superior health/nutrition was cited by 68%, followed by convenience (64%), taste (58%), dieting (50%), quality (49%) and environmental (38%).
Furthermore, brown-baggers confirmed that the money-saving motivation applies more to cutting back on visiting casual, mid-scale and fast-casual restaurants, whereas health and nutrition are the primary reasons for cutting back on quick-serve restaurants and convenience stores.
Quick Service Restaurants--which have captured nearly 80% of total lunch business thanks to the convenience factor--are being most affected by the brown-bagging trend, NPD reports. And with health consciousness as or more important than money-saving, QSRs will have to compete with homemade lunches even when the economy picks up.
Overcoming the perception that "what's in the bag is better and fresher than what's ordered from a restaurant" is a major challenge for QSRs, in particular, noted Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst and author of the report on brown-bagging. "Restaurants need to offer variety and healthier and lighter menu options at a fair price point, and the food needs to taste great, too," she said.
"Brown-bagging is an extension of Americans now preparing and eating the majority of their meals at home" for a variety of reasons, including quality and health, adds Balzer.
White-collar professionals with mid- to high-incomes tend to have the greatest interest in carrying their weekday lunch from home. Adult males carry brown-bagged weekday lunches most frequently, but adult females have driven gains over the last few years and (surprise) females are often the preparers of the males' lunches.
The item most commonly found in a lunch bag is fruit (32%), followed by chips (14%). But contents vary by gender and age, with cookies often replacing the chips in kids' lunches; a poultry sandwich replacing chips for men; and yogurt and veggies more common choices for women.
Among the total population, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the most popular sandwich type, and carbonated soft drinks are the dominant beverage choice. Leftovers have become a more common part of bagged lunches, as have yogurt and frozen entries. Meanwhile, sandwiches featuring ham and other luncheon meats are on the decline, according to NPD.
Nearly half of consumers decide that they want to brown-bag the day before or earlier, but two out of three lunches are prepared the morning of the same day.