Consumers crave more lunchtime variety

by Monica Watrous    View Me on Google+
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Starbucks is among several chains working to refine lunchtime offerings.

 

CHICAGO — While convenience and speedy service are important factors at lunchtime, consumers crave more variety during the day part. Eighty per cent of consumers, up from 70% in 2011, want higher-quality and more unique items on lunch menus, according to a new report from Technomic, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.

“There are definitely opportunities to take share in the lunch day part,” said Sara Monnette, senior director, consumer insights and innovation at Technomic. “Promotion of premium limited-time items, staggered portion sizes and better-for-you menu specialties could help capture customer attention and drive midday traffic.”

With 59% of consumers buying lunch away from home at least once a week, opportunity is ripe for restaurants to woo the workday crowd. Starbucks recently began revamping its offerings to attract more afternoon traffic. At the end of June, the coffee chain debuted a grilled cheese sandwich, featuring a blend of aged white cheddar, yellow cheddar and mozzarella on multigrain bread, and a turkey pesto panini, which has sliced turkey and provolone cheese with roasted peppers and basil pesto on a toasted focaccia roll. In a similar move, Dunkin’ Donuts expanded its lunch menu with a new grilled chicken flatbread sandwich, topped with ancho chipotle sauce and reduced-fat cheddar cheese on a multigrain flatbread.

Better-for-you options, such as Dunkin' Donuts' new grilled chicken flatbread sandwich, win with consumers, Technomic said.

 

The availability of better-for-you options and smaller portions influences a consumer’s purchasing decision, Technomic said. Three out of 10 consumers expect restaurants to offer smaller portions at lunchtime, and 36% eat a lighter midday meal during the week. The number skews higher for women, with 40% favoring a sized-down serving during the week.

Although consumers are seeking more variety at lunch, nearly half visit the same spots regularly. As for innovation, sandwiches have become a key platform for experimentation with such trends this year as pork-based preparations and Asian-fusion flavors. During the summer, Quiznos launched a limited-time pair of barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, including a spicy option topped with bacon, aged cheddar, cilantro-jalapeño slaw and barbecue sauce on jalapeño cheddar bread. Additionally, Subway added an Applewood pulled pork sub as a seasonal offering. Asian-fusion items, such as steamed bao sandwiches with curry or short rib, debuted on menus in independent chains over the past year, paving the way for innovation at leading chains, Technomic said.

Sandwiches have become a key platform for innovation on lunch menus, with several chains including Quiznos introducing pulled pork varieties.

 

The fastest items growing on lunch menus in limited-service restaurants are iced coffee, up 61% from 2012, followed by specialty pizza (23%) and soup (21%). In full-service, hard cider has soared 126% on menus, followed by craft beer (52%) and fries (17%).

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