Exploring the Changing Habits of Canadian Lunch Consumers

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For most Canadians, lunch is predictable. When you think about it, we’re creatures of habit when it comes to lunch — many of us eat the same thing, at the same time, in the same place, day after day.

According to data from NPD’s Crest Survey, the traditional peak lunch time is between noon and 2 p.m. This makes sense, as the traditional work day still tends to revolve around a nine-to-five schedule — with a lunch break somewhere in the middle of the day. However, over the last few years, we’ve seen shifts in how consumers approach the lunch daypart. Most recently, the emergence of “all-day breakfast” offerings by several large Canadian foodservice banners significantly impacted how consumers look at lunch. In some cases, consumers are substituting lunch with a late breakfast and in other cases, consumers may be eating during traditional lunch hours, but may actually be classifying their meal as breakfast because of the types of foods they’re eating.

To further complicate the picture, NPD data shows, when it comes to consumer lunch traffic, the largest compound annual-growth rate increase is now at 3 p.m. In this case, the consumer tends to be a single party looking for a quick lunch during a busy work day. This cohort is being driven by QSR and retail. When it comes to the latter, you’ve likely noticed that everywhere you go, brands are investing in foodservice; whether you’re buying groceries, clothing, furniture or even gas. The retail segment will always have the hot dog/sausage and fries option, but the top items showed the strongest volume growth are now side salads, salty snacks and non-fried vegetables.

However, despite these shifts in eating habits, the noon hour still holds the highest proportion of consumer visits for lunch (45 per cent). So, what’s popular at lunch? Given the aforementioned shift, it’s not surprising that breakfast-sandwich servings at lunch are leading the way — up 58 per cent year over year at QSR. The predictable, but undeniably popular, “main salad” has also seen strong growth on the year, up 23 per cent at QSR.

When it comes to who is driving growth at lunch, younger and older Gen-Z consumers have been the primary drivers of growth for this daypart — with more than 56 million traffic occasions compared to last year. Keep in mind, this cohort represents 20
per cent of the overall lunch market.

On-premise occasions continue to drive growth at lunch, however, delivery continues to be the fastest-growing access mode. Delivery has been growing by eight per cent on average and experienced strong double-digit volume growth on the year, even though it only represents two per cent of lunch traffic occasions.

For operators, this represents an interesting but challenging opportunity. Consumers are looking for differing lunch options at differing times throughout the day. There’s little doubt this trend will endure as millennials and zenials continue to emerge as the new lunch consumers.

Written by Robert Carter

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