Channel surfing

by Keith Nunes
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Consumer demands for variety and convenience combined with food industry efforts to broaden their market base have led to a blurring between the once distinct meal time occasions. In the fast-food segment, consumers may buy breakfast items during lunch and dinner occasions, while fast-casual chains such as Denny’s offer their full menu all day.

Further blurring the lines is the evolving snack segment, where the list of traditional offerings has expanded beyond bags of potato chips, cookies and candy bars to include wraps, yogurts, meal replacement beverages and other fare designed to be eaten on the go. It is the habit of consumers to eat more on-the-go foods that is altering the distinction between meals and snacks, according to studies conducted by Datamonitor, London, and Packaged Facts, New York, a division of Marketresearch.com.

Consumers have become too busy to sit down for a meal, according to the Datamonitor report released in early August. There is a growing perception among consumers in Europe and the U.S. that they are time pressured and, as a consequence, their leisure time is being seen as a luxury.

A survey conducted by Datamonitor in 2006 found 52% of consumers in Europe and the U.S. had taken steps to reduce stress levels compared to the previous year. As a result of the time pressure and stress, consumers are increasingly eating and drinking while traveling, at their desks at work or during leisure activities in an effort to free up more leisure time.

The effort to gain more leisure time means consumers also are skipping meals, particularly breakfast and lunch due to work commitments and hectic lifestyles, according to Datamonitor. As a result of these fragmented mealtimes, afternoon snacks represent the largest proportion of on-the-go meals, accounting for 27% of all on-the-go meals in 2006 in the U.K. As skipped lunches become more frequent, consumers will increasingly seek products that are convenient and filling, which may be consumed as an afternoon snack to replenish energy levels.

While eating on the go is a growing trend, the propensity to drink on the go is greater than it is to eat, due to the easy portability of drinks and the re-sealable nature of some packaging. Consumers in the United Kingdom, for example, had an average of 2.8 on-the-go drinking occasions per day in 2006, as compared to 2.2 for European consumers overall. As the trend continues, Datamonitor reports food processors should expect meal replacement drinks and liquid nutrition to become more popular, as consumers demand more sophisticated beverage offerings.

"As consumers’ lives become increasingly hectic, the opportunities for on-the-go food and drink consumption will increase, and the locations for on-the-go occasions will become more diverse" said Matthew Jones, consumer market analyst and author of the Datamonitor study. "Manufacturers can capitalize on this trend by targeting their products to specific mealtimes such as the afternoon snack, and making products available where they are most convenient such as forecourt retailers."

All-day dining

Food processors have been grappling with the notion of how to serve consumers who regularly skip meals. In 2003, Information Resources Inc.’s report "What Do Americans Really Eat?" provided context to the pressures of time that are being put on consumers. The report showed that one-third of Americans regularly skipped meals, often grazing on snack foods as a substitute.

Additional data reported in Packaged Facts’ "On-The-Go Eating in the U.S." showed that over one-third of adults also reported eating several small meals throughout the day instead of the traditional three meals.

Also helping to blur the line between meals and snacks is the growth of the appetizer-size selections and smaller, on-the-go portions, with appetizers sometimes replacing entrees as the meal of choice.

Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark., took this approach with the launch of Any’tizers, frozen snacks to be eaten as part of or separate from the lunch or dinner meal occasion.

"Americans snack almost as often as they eat regular meals because of the fast pace and demands of their lives," said Shawn Walker, senior vice-president of value-added meal solutions for Tyson Foods. "We believe our new Any’tizers line will help meet consumer demands for great-tasting, protein-based snacks that offer versatility, variety and are easy to prepare."

Consumer research conducted by Tyson showed consumers view the products as appropriate for many eating occasions, including as part of a meal, a snack, a light meal and as an appetizer.

The H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, also has taken a similar tack with the introduction of its Weight Watchers Smart Ones Anytime Selections in July. The Anytime Selections are hand-held mini-meals intended to be a part of a traditional meal or eaten as a snack.

"Eating frequent mini-meals during the day can help keep hunger at bay, prevent overeating and provide the body with a constant energy source," said Idamarie Laquatra, director of global nutrition for Heinz. "Whether the goal is weight management, or just eating well on a busy day, Americans are looking for convenient and satisfying options."

Further encouraging people to eschew full meals and focus on quick, smaller meals are the value menus available at quick-service restaurants, according to Packaged Facts. Similarly, the research firm also reported that many of the same fast-food companies have been introducing new menu items like the Snack Wrap available from McDonald’s and KFC’s Snackers line of products.

Launched in August 2006, the McDonald’s Snack Wrap has proven to be a successful launch for the fast-food chain in the U.S. and, according to Jim Skinner, chief executive officer of McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., is now "driving incremental sales in both Germany and the U.K." The company recently expanded the Snack Wrap line in the U.S. with the introduction of a chipotle flavored product.

"Restaurant food already comprises a sizable percentage of Americans’ diets, and 1 out of every 10 people already buys food at a convenience store in a two-week period," said Tatjana Meerman, publisher of Packaged Facts. "Food service sectors are seeking to increase their shares of this growing market by adapting to changing consumer attitudes toward meal times, meal sizes and health issues in order to make their products more convenient, healthier and otherwise appealing."

Numerous signs point to the conclusion that Americans will only get busier, according to Packaged Facts. Major metropolitan areas continue to sprawl and traffic jams continue to worsen. Currently, 17% of U.S. workers commute more than 45 minutes each way to work, and 3.5 million commuters are defined as "extreme" for undertaking commutes that last more than 90 minutes each way.

"Any forces that might slow down time-pressed Americans looking for a quick food fix are minor in the big picture," said Packaged Facts. "The simple fact remains that Americans’ busy lives will, by and large, not just remain busy but get even busier. As a result, consumer demand for food that can be located, purchased and eaten with minimal fuss will only grow."

Burger King to expand in snack segment

Burger King Corp., Miami, has entered a license agreement with Phoenix-based snack food manufacturer The Inventure Group to develop a line of branded Burger King snacks.

Two snack chip flavors will be introduced, Ketchup & Fries and a yet-to-be-named savory flavor that captures the fast-food chain’s flame broiled flavor. The snacks will launch in vending machines, on airlines and in convenience, drug and grocery stores beginning in November.

"The entry of our brand into the snack food business through licensing is another initiative in a long line of innovative ways we’re expanding our brand reach," said Russ Klein, president, global marketing, strategy and innovation, Burger King Corp. "Our vision is to secure a brand presence in more than 100,000 outlets through these new distribution channels, far beyond our 11,200 restaurants."

The Inventure Group will offer the chips in several sizes and price points: single serving sizes of 1 oz and 1.75 oz will be featured in vending machines and on airlines; 2.5- or 3-oz sizes will be available in convenience stores and 5.5-oz bags will be sold in grocery stores. A second roll-out of the products to price clubs and additional grocery outlets in spring 2008 will feature 20- and 25-oz bags and variety packs.

Burger King Corp. also plans to test market a 100-calorie bag in its restaurants.

"The 100-calorie bag will serve as a ‘Have it Your Way’ option that goes particularly well with existing menu offerings like the Tender Grill Chicken Sandwich," Mr. Klein said, "as well as with products under development, like BK ‘Holdems’ wraps.

"The snacks are trans fat free, and the 100-calorie bag may provide our guests with portion control options as part of their overall eating strategies."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, August 21, 2007, starting on Page 28. Click here to search that archive.

  

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