Out to Lunch?.

29th October 2018


At Stir, we are on a mission to help our clients fully understand the changing consumer attitudes to mealtimes, so they can more effectively plan and execute comms plans. For the last month, we have been carrying out a piece of work looking at the changing face of breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as the key trends driving those changes.

You can read the full report here, but in this we’ll share an extract concentrating specifically on the trends in consumer attitudes towards lunch, as well as strategies for changing brand perception to appeal to them.


1. Made at home vs. shop bought

Three fifths of Brits eat lunch out of home, but the majority of consumers eat or prepare their lunch at home. Brits packed just shy of two billion lunches last year, with the packed lunch having had a makeover as the sandwich, fruit and crisps combination no longer cuts it with a more discerning consumer.

Over-16s’ share of the lunch occasion has grown from 77.4% two years ago to 81.3%, with the 25-to-34-year-old and 45-to-54-year-old age groups showing the strongest growth. This is great news for bread, meat snacking, savoury slice, yoghurt and cheese brands looking to win some space in adults’ lunchboxes.

There has been an increase in the value of lunchboxes from £1.21 to £1.23 in the past year, equating to an extra £39million in value. While 60% of consumers still include a sandwich, people are getting more adventurous with lunchboxes. Sandwich thins, bagels and even toastie pockets are increasingly taking the place of standard bread, so consumers are looking to brands to help them get creative.

All of this means supermarkets and food halls need to raise their game on pre-packed lunch items. Since the first packaged sandwich (M&S salmon and tomato) hit the shops in 1980, the British sandwich industry has grown to be worth £8bn a year. According to the British Sandwich Association, the number grows at a steady 2% – or 80 million sandwiches – each year. The sandwich remains the engine of the UK’s £20bn food-to-go industry. And as people take on average just 3.5 minutes to eat, it’s not surprising it’s the nation’s go-to for at-desk eating or when on the go.

Evolve your brand perception: Making it into the nation’s lunchbox

It’s a fact that humans like to show off, and this has never been more evident than in the digital/social media age. To make the lunchbox-cut nowadays, it’s important to realise that ‘lunch-spo’ and ‘food-envy’ is a genuine decision driver for some, especially amongst millennials and Gen Zs.

Some brands have adapted to this behavioural trend by making their packaging more ‘insta-worthy’, using pastel shades and attractive fonts; there were 51 million hits for #lunch and two million for #lunchbox on Instagram last year alone. If you look at a lot of the emerging brands – Deliciously Ella, Rude Health, The Collective – their packaging is clearly designed with those Instagram flat-lays in mind. Even Häagen Dazs recently had a complete brand overhaul, citing social media as a key driver for this.

But if doing a Häagen Dazs isn’t really an option, try investing in social ad campaigns or influencer partnerships that showcase your product in a new and striking way. Think about creating some content along the lines of ‘Five beautiful lunchbox ideas’ or working with a fitness or lifestyle influencer to design the perfect weekly lunch plan – obviously featuring your product as part of it!

We also can’t ignore the increasing awareness around healthy, nutritious eating. And while kids might be asking for certain treats in their school lunchbox, it’s parents who are making the final decision. Ensuring you’re getting in front of their eyes, with a focus on nutritional benefits, is key to becoming a lunchbox staple.


2. Lunch is served at the same time daily, al desko

Despite fewer consumers eating three square meals a day at traditional times, lunch holds fast as it is still eaten by the majority (80%) of people between noon and 1pm. And lunch ‘al desko’ reigns supreme as the average British worker takes just 34 minutes for their lunch break, while office employees eat lunch at their desk on average four days per week (Workthere, 2017).

Evolve your brand perception: Lunchbreak association  

While QSR brands such as Pret à Manger, Itsu and Leon have successfully positioned themselves as the go-to venues for quick, healthy lunches for busy, working professionals, there is still room for food brands to challenge them.

Using the facts already mentioned that consumers are ever more health-conscious, as well as potentially more money-conscious, brands should consider how they can broadcast their own message around the benefits and options for preparing your own lunch vs. buying it. This could include considering where to advertise or place press that’s likely to reach this audience segment – getting an ad or placement within a free daily newspaper or in and around tube stations for example.

Ultimately, it’s all about driving product association – getting a consumer to associate your brand with their lunchtime meal at work. Pret à Manger and other QSR brands do this well by occasionally offering free coffees and/or food snacks during lunch hours in busy office areas, enticing customers in and encouraging them to come back with loyalty cards and special offers. Why not think about how this kind of activation could be applied to a product being sold in a supermarket?


3. Workers lack inspiration

One in three of us are creatures of habit, eating the same midday meal every day. As many as 70% of workers admit they are stuck in a lunch-rut, with the humble ham sandwich the most likely flavour on repeat. 56% of Brits eat at least one sandwich per day, with over a third having exactly the same filling every day.

Evolve your brand perception: How do we make lunchtime an experience?

Lunchtime ‘al desko’ is never going to be the most exciting time of day, but how can we make the midday meal more inspiring for consumers?

Borrowing from the inspiration tip in our breakfast section, one way is through partnering with digital influencers to create consistently engaging content. ‘What I eat in a day’ videos have become popular with YouTubers online, so working with them to feature a product within these genuine everyday-style vlogs will help to showcase your brand amongst an already engaged audience. As mentioned before though, “The key here is not to overdo it – too much influencer activity can quickly become inauthentic and result in backlash – and also to ensure your partners are the right fit for your brand. Do their audience want to hear about food and cooking, and how do you make it feel interesting and engaging, rather than just another ‘ad’?”

Another way of reaching today’s consumer is appealing to their conscience. In the information age, there is increasing public concern around sustainability, ethical sourcing and social/environmental responsibility, with a third of consumers stating they try to buy brands that reflect their values.

People want to feel good, and if the ingredients they’ve used for their packed lunch, or the takeaway sandwich they’ve picked up in the supermarket help them to feel this way, they’re more than likely to re-purchase. So, if you’re a brand with a story to tell – whether it’s reduced plastic packaging, or work within developing countries – make sure it’s front and centre of your marketing communications. A great example of a brand campaign that inspires is Innocent Drinks’ ‘The Big Knit’. Partnering with Age UK, the brand asks customers to knit little woolly hats for their smoothie bottles, then going on to give 25p to the charity with each one sold. With 7.5m hats and £2.5m raised to date, this is a perfect example of a brand looking to do genuine good but also appealing to the socially-conscious consumer with its product.



Brands shouldn’t get caught in the London lunchtime bubble – there is still a huge opportunity among those working professionals buying from high-street chains and supermarkets. No one has yet quite cracked the ‘re-claim the lunch break’ campaign, but with a greater importance placed on flexible working and work/life balance, this could be a good time for brands to play in this space.



Heinz, 2017

Crimson Hexagon

Statistica, 2017, 2018