Shrinking Lunchtime Slows America

Packaged Facts projects that the dollar volume of the U.S. foodservice lunch market will reach $182 billion, yet overall industry growth at lunchtime has been sluggish at less than $1 billion since 2000. More than a third of all foodservice sales takes place at lunchtime, yet with the exception of public-school institutional lunches, market growth has been non-existent, the researcher stated. While the market is shifting to faster and healthier options, sales are only expected to creep up to slightly more than $187 billion by 2012, Packaged Facts indicated.

Nonetheless, foodservice distributors should be aware of lunchtime sandwich consumption in schools and the workplace, observed Rachel Maines, the analyst who worked on the report.

"Lunch is the daypart during which the largest number of Americans is at work or at school. If there's a single daypart that's more important to food service directors than any other, it's lunch. Whether you're serving elementary school kids, prisoners, college students or employees in an on-site cafeteria, you've got to have a mid-day meal. If you're serving it in a school system, it had better be reimbursable, and that means it must meet Federal nutritional standards," Maines said in reply to a question from ID.

Sandwiches still dominate lunchtime fare with burgers still a leader in the quick-service restaurant market. Yet burger operators are feeling the heat from non-burger sandwich chains, which have been rapidly expanding into the market since the turn of the century, the research noted. Similarly, sales of grab-and-go foods from convenience, grocery stores, and supercenters have increased as the trend to package "combination lunches" catches on, it said.

"While the market is continually evolving and innovating not only with the foods being prepared but the packaging as well, none of these innovations has necessarily converted new lunchtime customers," said Don Montuori, the publisher of Packaged Facts. "We don't see this changing any time soon, which means growth will lay solely on increased institutional foodservice demands, particularly in schools."


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