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UK Insights

What’s in your lunchbox? The shifting climate of lunchtime needs

Kirsty Cooke

Head of Digital Content, UK

Shoppers 16.07.2018 / 13:00


Lunchboxes are enjoying a rise in popularity, but the contents are changing, finds Kantar Worldpanel.

A need for varied, healthy, and fulfilling lunch options means that old favourites such as cheese sandwiches aren’t receiving the same affection that they used to.

An extra 65m lunchboxes were consumed in the last year (for 52 w/e 25 February 2018). This raises the annual total lunchbox usage to above 2 billion. This number is closing in on annual levels from 2014, following a 4-year dip triggered by the Free School Meals initiative. The Free School Meals initiative led to lunchbox consumption falling from 24.3% to 18.1% since its launch, equating to 135m fewer annual kids’ occasions vs. 2014 (down 8% per year). Comparatively, the year-on-year decline amongst 0-15 year olds has plateaued to just under 1m​ (down 0.2%). Last month, the government also announced plans to reduce spending on Free School Meals, which is expected to reverse the four-year kids’ lunchbox trend. ​​

Key Numbers

  • 65m more lunchboxes consumed in the last year

For now, the age group consuming the most lunchboxes – that is, any “carried out” lunch, as opposed to one eaten in the home or out of home at a restaurant/café – are the 45-64 year olds, who are consuming 49m more lunchboxes than last year (an 8% increase). This long-term momentum driven by older workers is expected to continue, given that the official retirement age will be raised to 66 in 2020, with plans to extend it further, meaning they will continue this trend. ​

The UK public is carefully managing their budgets due to a current slump in consumer confidence. This leads to the budget-friendly option of reheating last night’s leftovers. Over 20 million more lunchbox occasions are being “prepared on another day”, which correlates with a clear long-term movement towards microwave-prepped lunchboxes as an extra 58m (+8%) are being consumed in comparison to 2014. ​Although the microwaved meal requires minimal effort, it is found that sandwiches are still a more popular option.

​Despite the sandwich remaining the go-to lunchbox option, it is in noticeable consumption decline, with 182m fewer annual occasions than 2014 and 28m vs. last year (a 2% drop). The year-on-year trend is caused primarily by cheese and chicken sandwiches, which have respective declines of 19m (-8%) and 15m (-17%) each, while ham sandwiches have gained 8m annual occasions (+3%). This is in line with each sandwich variant’s performance at total lunch occasions. ​

​There has been a notable rise in ethnic food as a carried-out lunch over the past year, taking the sandwich’s place, with an extra 10m occasions involving Indian food (+83%), 7m involving Italian food (+18%) and 4m involving Oriental food (+25%). 15m extra occasions vs. last year fulfilled the “fancied a change” need (+5%), showing that many consumers want to spice up their lunchbox. The “filling” need was selected at 44m more occasions vs. last year (+9%), showing that many people find sandwiches constitute a less satisfying lunchbox than ethnic options. ​

​The value of lunchbox occasions is on the rise, as each is now worth £1.96, 2.6% more than last year. This is in line with overall grocery inflation, but can also be explained by a greater variety of lunch options being available, leading to an increase of the total number of needs being met. With total number of lunchbox occasions also growing, lunchbox value has risen to £3.9bn annually which shows and increase over the past two years of £0.5bn. Manufacturers can grab a slice of the growing lunchbox pie by offering convenient sandwich replacements, with a growing need for products that can offer a novel, filling and healthy option.

Source : Kantar Worldpanel

Editor's Notes

All data Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 25 February 2018 unless otherwise stated.

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