‘Flexi-eating' - the future for food consumption?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meal

The trend away from traditional eating patterns and towards
undisciplined dietary chaos continues to gain pace in the Western
world. According to new study from market analysts Datamonitor,
breakfast, lunch and dinner are no longer seen as being as
important as they were a generation ago

The trend away from traditional eating patterns and towards undisciplined dietary chaos continues to gain pace in the Western world. According to new study from market analysts Datamonitor, breakfast, lunch and dinner are no longer seen as being as important as they were a generation ago, with consumer research in seven European countries finding that over half of all consumers admit to frequently combining several snacks as a substitute for a 'proper' meal.

On average every European will eat 11 fewer meals per year by 2006 and they will snack on average 19 more times per year to compensate for this change. Looking at differences between the sexes when it comes to eating, Datamonitor found that women are more likely to skip lunch or dinner but will snack more throughout the day.

According to Datamonitor food manufacturers will have to provide a more varied and nutritional range of snacking options as well as convenient small meals that are targeted at consumers throughout the day, rather than at specific mealtimes.

The report continues that the need for speed is rising and so is indulgence and experience.

“ "Mealtimes are increasingly being treated as flexible periods of time that can be made to fit around the needs of consumers' more hectic, individual and stressful lifestyles. Flexi-eating has become more prevalent as consumers fit food around their other commitments.

Routine meals at home or with the family are declining. While snacking and eating on-the-go have been noticeable trends for a few years, it is no longer just about rushing - a flexible attitude towards eating has become the norm and we may rush a lot of meals or skip them altogether, however at other times we take more time to enjoy our eating or make a special occasion of it,"​ said Dominik Nosalik, Datamonitor consumer markets analyst and author of the report.

Traditional meal occasions are in decline as we select the meal that best suits our needs. Fast and functional eating is growing as the number of people that have neither the time, inclination nor skills to eat and prepare meals rises.

Even conscientiously missed meals are symptomatic of mealtime Fragmentation, claims Datamonitor, with 11 per cent of survey respondents who missed meals citing dieting as a reason for doing so.

As a backlash against increasingly individual lifestyles, consumers are also making a greater effort to make some of our meals "special occasions" and meet up with friends or family for a dinner party or night out. The frequency of eating out is rising as consumers seek to maximise their leisure time. The number of evening meals served in the foodservice sector in Europe has grown by 2.9 per cent over the past five years.

The main meal of the day is becoming a floating occasion. Over the last couple of decades, the concept of three square meals a day has changed, and its now normal for many consumers to have one 'main' meal a day. However, the report continues, the timing of the main meal of the day is no longer set in stone. In France and Italy, many consumers are eating dinner as their main meal in a shift away from the traditional main mealtime as lunch. The same thing is happening in the UK and the Netherlands, except in reverse - lunch is increasingly being eaten as the main meal instead of dinner.

Consumers are taking an increasingly flexible approach to when they eat their main meal to accommodate their specific needs on a given day. Overall ‘proper’ meal occasions will decline in the future as we snack more often. However, in certain instances, such as dinner in France or lunch in the UK, there will be an increase in the number of meals eaten.

Datamonitor adds that breakfast is the most missed meal in Europe. On average European consumers skip 18 per cent of breakfasts per person, per year, but only 3 per cent of lunches and 4 per cent of dinners. UK consumers are most likely to miss breakfast, with the average British consumer eating 256 breakfasts a year - meaning that 30 per cent of all breakfasts are skipped.

Welcome news for manufacturers comes in the Datamonitor report that states snacking is an important source of food intake. The most common reason for snacking is hunger - a response given by 67 per cent of those surveyed, implying that consumers are not receiving enough food intake at proper mealtimes.

Fifty five per cent of consumers also regularly combine several snacks to form a "substitute" meal. This behaviour was found to be typical among consumers who had no time to prepare a proper meal before a busy night out or when on-the-move.

Apparently 45 per cent of respondents indicated that they snack to be sociable. Datamonitor claims that the need to 'fit in' and 'keep up to date with gossip' with work colleagues is likely to be a key driver in social snacking, particularly among non-smokers, since smokers often form their own cliques at work.

Lunch is the most commonly consumed meal across Europe - European consumers ate 97 per cent of available lunches in 2001. However, the report continues, the significance of lunch is declining. Traditionally, lunch has been the main meal of the day for the majority of Europeans, yet only 47 per cent of survey respondents quoted this as their typical main meal, compared to 49 per cent who said dinner was the main meal. This illustrates the strong time-pressures surrounding the lunch occasion, particularly for urban workers, across Europe.

Women are more likely to skip lunch or dinner but will snack more throughout the day and men skip more meals earlier in the day whereas women are far more likely to miss meals that occur later in the day.

Twenty-one per cent of men miss breakfast five or more times a week compared to only 8 per cent of women who do likewise. The fact that there are more men in the workforce than women is a key factor in this outcome. Women are more likely to miss the typically larger meals of lunch and dinner than men. The dominant reason for missing any meal for both men and women was a lack of time. However, missing meals for dieting reasons featured significantly more prominently among women than men for the lunch and dinner occasions.

Around 10 per cent of lunches and 18 per cent of dinners are skipped by women due to dieting, compared to 7 per cent and 11 per cent respectively for men. Despite a stronger propensity to miss meals for diet reasons, women were found to be more likely to snack. Women are twice as likely as men to snack to be sociable or because they are bored.

Over the next five years meals will increasingly give way to snacking. On average every European will eat 11 fewer meals per year by 2006 but they will snack on average 19 more times per year to compensate for this change. Datamonitor adds that European consumers will skip more meals earlier in the day, since these occur during non-leisure time (including pre-working time) and are most time-pressured. However, breakfast market growth will be strong despite morning mealtime dissolution. Despite an average 6.8 fewer breakfasts being consumed per person per year by 2006, the value of the breakfast market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 2 per cent over the next five years as consumers spend more on breakfast from foodservice outlets.

The report stresses that marketers need to adapt their offering to target the changing purpose of meals. As snacking becomes a more important source of consumers' daily food intake, the nature of snacking can be expected to become less frivolous and more functional in nature.

Manufacturers and retailers will need to focus on providing consumers with a more varied and nutritional range of snacking options. The need for convenient small meals that are targeted at consumers throughout the day, rather than at specific mealtimes, will also rise.

Marketers need to be aware of consumers' greater willingness to shift their main meal to other times of the day. On the one hand, there is increased opportunity to target other parts of the day. For example, for retailers there will be a need to adapt their offering to provide more hot offerings at lunchtime in the UK and the Netherlands and at dinnertime in Italy and France.

Meanwhile, foodservice operators that focus extensively on one chunk of the day should consider re-aligning their focus to provide a balanced range of meals throughout the day. Datamonitor concludes that on the other hand, there will be increased competition across the day as a greater number of food and drink marketers target the same meal occasion.

Related topics: Markets

Follow us

Products

View more

Webinars