What happened to lunch? Convenient meals are becoming necessities for consumers juggling busy lives with work and family, and people are abandoning traditional meal times and rituals. A lot of that has affected lunch.
A study from human resource consulting firm Robert Half/OfficeTeam (www.roberthalf.com) found nearly half of workers either don't take lunch breaks or take breaks that last 30 minutes or less. Many workers multitask while they eat. Research from Right Management (www.right.com) shows the lunch break is somewhat disappearing, and that only one in five people steps away for a mid-day meal, while most workers eat at their desks.
Alas, 55 percent of lunch meals are solitary, where quick and easy are priorities, as a result of changing lifestyles and growth of single-person households, notes research firm NPD Group (www.npd.com). Technology has affected the traditional lunch hour; it’s easier to keep typing while we eat, so we're free to do so.
"Consumers eat around their schedules rather than schedule around mealtimes," observes Blaine Becker, senior marketing director at the Hartman Group (www.hartman-group.com). "Lunch is often scheduled to accommodate an overflow of meetings and must-do’s."
Becker says while dinner remains an important social meal occasion, breakfast and lunch are routinely "snackified," especially during the work week. "This opens up schedules and frees up time from planning, cooking and cleaning. On these no-cook occasions, consumers are eating a mix of packaged and prepared foods (yogurt cups, sushi, deli sandwiches) with some fresh ingredients, such as snacking fruit or salad bar items. Or they may outsource these low-stakes occasions to restaurants and foodservice. Eating out isn't just for special occasions but an everyday approach to 'getting food.'"
While sandwiches remain the most popular selection (just visit any Panera Bread restaurant), salads with fresh fruit and vegetables are gaining. Taste, health, price and speed are prime considerations at lunchtime. Nielsen (www.nielsen.com) recently revealed 64 percent of consumers are making a concerted effort to buy healthier foods for the meals they do eat.
If fresh fruit isn't available, Fruit Refreshers from Del Monte (www.delmonte.com) offer adults a fruit cup with a "grown-up" portion size (7 oz.) and sophisticated varieties. The line includes Pineapple, Grapefruit & Oranges and Mandarin Oranges in flavored, slightly sweetened fruit water. The product contains no high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, sweeteners or GMOs, and the cups contain no BPA.
Riviana Foods (www.riviana.com) put Minute Rice Ready to Serve Rice into single-serve microwavable cups for the noon meal. The company cites consumer preferences for healthier, globally inspired foods in introducing Brown Rice & Quinoa and globally inspired Basmati Rice, both ready in 60 seconds. The varieties also come in family-size bowls serving three to four that are microwave-ready in two minutes.
Similarly, McCormick & Co.'s Zatarains recently introduced rice cups that "bring you the flavor of New Orleans in just 3 1/2 minutes." Just add water and microwave and you can have Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, Black Beans & Rice or Dirty Rice for lunch, without a trip to the French Quarter.
Speaking of rice, low-carb dieters are substituting cauliflower for rice in many dishes, and ricing it is a trendy way to slip in more veggie servings. B&G Foods (www.bgfoods.com) hopes the cauliflower-rice trend can help Green Giant update its image and reverse declining sales. Green Giant plans to start selling bags of frozen "Riced Veggies" made with cauliflower, as well as frozen "mashed cauliflower" at the end of September.
Trader Joe's and Wegmans are in on the trend too with house brands, and Boulder Canyon is moving from snacks to seasoned and plain frozen varieties of microwave-ready, grain-free riced cauliflower, carrots, broccoli with sweet potato. "Vegetable ricing is a huge trend right now," said Steve Sklar, senior vice president and general manager for Boulder Canyon Authentic Foods. "We've taken it a step further to provide seasoned and plain varieties so [consumers] have multiple options."
Kraft Heinz' new Devour Meals (www.devour-foods.com) are also packed with protein. The microwavable meals cater to the lunch crowd with a whopping dozen savory varieties that are ready quickly and designed to satisfy taste cravings, the company says. The meals include what Kraft Heinz calls "upgraded classics," such as White Cheddar Mac & Cheese with Bacon, Angus Beef with Cornbread and Cheese Ravioli with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce. There's even sweet Chicken & Waffles and Deep Dish Honey BBQ Chicken Pizza.