40% of workers say that they miss their workplace’s food and drink perks, rising to 59% of those who have access to a workplace canteen.

Office closures and stay at home mandates have resulted in more people making their own lunches at home rather than buying them from workplace canteens or foodservice outlets situated on high streets. This trend is likely to continue beyond the pandemic, with many consumers expecting to continue to work from home for at least part of the week, and therefore this will result in some consumers exiting the out-of-home lunch market or reducing the frequency of their usage of lunchtime food outlets.

The pandemic has not only seen consumers become used to spending less on everyday lunches; it has also seen many replace small shops and regular visits to high streets with big supermarket shops. Some consumers are unlikely to break this habit anytime soon, and this will see supermarkets provide greater competition to the foodservice market. 36% of Britons have bought ready-to-eat food from a supermarket/convenience store in the past year, rising to 42% amongst those in a tight financial situation.

As people become more confident with making their own lunches, it is vital for operators to reach the customers who have acquired a taste for premium foods, whether it be through offering dishes cooked to perfection using specialised techniques or unique food pairings with a ‘wow’ factor, as opposed to sandwiches and salads that may be considered easy to make at home.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the lunch out-of-home (foodservice) market.

  • Lunch out-of-home participation and venues used for takeaways in the last 12 months.

  • Factors that influence consumers’ decision-making when eating/ordering lunch out-of-home.

  • Consumers’ attitudes towards lunch out-of-home service channels, including click-and-collect and drive-through.

  • How the pandemic will shape workplace catering in future.

COVID-19: Market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020, with a small number of cases in February. Rapidly rising case numbers led to the first national lockdown, starting on 23 March. It was not until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to reopen, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July and many beauty businesses on 13 July.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a month-long lockdown from 5 November and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions.

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions further in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown.

On 22 February, Boris Johnson announced the roadmap to an easing of restrictions in England, starting with the reopening of schools on 8 March, followed by easing of restrictions on outdoor gatherings on 29 March and with a hoped end to all restrictions by 21 June. The Welsh and Scottish governments also gave more details on their plans to ease restrictions, with both nations taking a slightly more cautious approach to the one planned for England.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December 2020, and with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines licensed for use in the UK. By 19 May 2021, 70% of UK adults had received their first dose of the vaccine, and nearly 40% had received their second dose.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its March 2021 Economic and Fiscal Outlook report. After the fall of 9.9% over the course of 2020, the scenario suggests that UK GDP will grow by 4% in 2021 and 7.3% in 2022.

GDP is not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until Q2 2022, although this is six months earlier than the OBR forecast in November 2020, mainly because of the faster-than-expected rollout of vaccines.

Unemployment is expected to peak at 6.5% in Q4 2021. As with GDP, this is more positive than the OBR’s November forecast, but the OBR does raise the prospect of long-term scarring on employment, especially in the more exposed retail and hospitality sectors.

Foodservice outlets in England reopened indoor dining areas on 17 May after outdoor areas were allowed to reopen on 12 April.

Meanwhile, takeaway services are expected to continue to be consumers’ preferred lunch out-of-home dining occasions as long as the threat of the virus persists.

Wider participation in eating lunch-in at food outlets is expected to recommence when the vaccination programme has completed and the risk of COVID-19 is deemed to be very low.

Products covered in this Report

This Report examines consumer behaviour and attitudes towards foods eaten at lunchtime by adults, focusing on out-of-home occasions. It explores lunch habits regarding frequency, venue choice, food and service preferences, and behaviours when buying lunch out-of-home.

This Report includes supermarkets/convenience stores that sell ready-to-eat lunchtime meals as a means of comparison as well as the opportunities within workplace catering.

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