The stay-at-home mandates and new remote work schedules resulted in major lunch changes in regards to Americans’ eating behaviors, habits, and attitudes. Like most eating occasions, this mid-day meal is now primarily eaten at home. But that’s just one of the top lunch trends for 2022.
We analyzed data and research from surveys and studies throughout the United States to see how consumer preferences changed the top lunch flavors, foods, and ingredients. Food and beverage retail brands and restaurants can pivot their menus and marketing campaigns to reach more people by offering exactly what they’re hungry for when noon strikes.
Here are the highlights of the findings on post-pandemic lunch trends.
Lunch Is a More of a Home-Based Affair
Where professionals used to frequently meet friends, family members, and business associates at restaurants for lunch, remote working schedules now make that a less likely occurrence. Before the pandemic, 38% of Americans ate meals at home. Post-pandemic, 60% do. With more employers encouraging workers to stay home to complete their tasks, it seems likely that this trend will continue into the future.
This dovetails with the opportunities to meet the needs of those who have started to increase their cooking habits. Seventy-seven percent of Americans say they expect to do more home cooking after the pandemic ends, and this includes behaviors like planning meals in advance, making shopping lists, and shopping online for delivery.
Lunch Has Become a Healthy Goal
While mid-morning snacking is gaining popularity, especially among the younger generations, lunch consumer insights show that many consumers are trying to eat fewer snacks between meals. Of course, marketing lunch as a way to stay full without snacking can help people stay on track. Fifty-three percent of consumers snack currently, but only 18% expect to do it a year from now.
Still, Gen Z members are less likely to eat lunch. Only 19% of adults and 10% of teens say they eat lunch daily. Easy-to-make lunch options or mobile and online ordering systems can help reach this busy and on-the-go demographic.
Getting Kids To Eat Lunch Remains a Challenge
Parents still want to offer lunch to their children, and figuring out the top lunch foods for kids has remained a challenge for retail brands and restaurants. The goal is to focus on the familiar, as experiments with different flavors and ingredients can fail and cause emotional or physical exhaustion later in the afternoon.
Parents report the following factors when it comes to choosing foods for their kids:
Familiar flavors, like cheese
They can eat it with their hands
It comes in fun shapes, like stars
Offers healthy ingredients
Has famous characters, like Superman, on the package
Has added sauce
Has plain flavors like salt and butter
Contains few ingredients
Some parents also look for small sizes and activities to keep their children occupied on the package.
Top Lunch Ingredients Are Innovative and Creative
To encourage consumers to eat lunch out of the home, restaurants need to create menu items that aren’t easy to make in their kitchen. In marketing and on menus, there should be a clear explanation of special preparation and seasonal top lunch ingredients that may be expensive to buy or hard to find locally.
This preference is especially true for women, with 56% saying they order dishes they can’t make at home. Still, not everyone is comfortable trying new flavors. One in five adults look for creative tastes and flavors they haven’t had before. Others are concerned they won’t like it and don’t want to waste their money. Thirty percent hesitate to try new foods because they’re not fully described on the menu.
South American and Asian tastes, including Filipino and Peruvian as well as cumin dishes, garam masala, and saffron dishes, are trending now.
To learn more about our products and insights, get in touch with our team at Symrise today, Contact us here!
Get Inspired With New Menu Items
Overall in lunch trends, value meals have grown in popularity. Salad-based value meals are up an astonishing 92% from last year. Plant-based port and beef also have remained staples on menus throughout the United States.
As far as new menu items, Chopt now offers a Cali Cauliflower Salad Wrap, with roasted turmeric cauliflower, local feta, watermelon radish, pickled red onions, pita chips, romaine, arugula, purple cabbage, and a Meyer lemon yogurt dressing. Slightly less healthy but more nostalgic is Panera Bread’s grilled mac and cheese sandwich, with fontina and mozzarella cheese blend with parmesan crisps on toasted, thick-sliced white bread.
Limited offers are a great way to keep the attention on new lunch trends. Seasons 52 offers a sesame-grilled salmon salad with organic greens, mango, jicama, lemongrass sauce, wood-grilled red peppers, and toasted sesame dressing. Noodles & Company also has a nod to ethnic cuisine with its Mexican street corn salad with chicken, which features a Tuscan greens and kale mix tossed in cotija cheese dressing with grilled chicken, roasted corn, Roma tomato, and topped with avocado, feta, chipotle cheddar tortilla strips, and cilantro.
Top Lunch Foods Vary by Gender and Generation
Sandwiches and salty snacks are the most popular lunch foods for all genders, but women tend to eat more fruit, veggies, salads, and soups. Men are more likely to prefer frozen meals or sandwiches. Every generation turns to sandwiches and salty snacks first, with Gen Z enjoying pizza and fruit more than other generations.
Only the Northeast prefers fruit to salty snacks as additional lunch foods. Fruit is one of many top lunch desserts.
Top Lunch Items That Are Trending
Lunch is all about convenience, so it may be no surprise that these are the top trending foods for lunch:
Frozen pastas or mixed dish meals
As for the top lunch beverages, surveys show a growing interest in:
Water from the tap
Coffee and specialty coffee
Shakes, including nutrition, protein, and diet drinks
Milkshakes, malts, and other ice cream drinks
Energy drinks and shots
Whatever the option, healthy claims remain important. There’s a 60% increase in marketing with “cholesterol-free,” and an 8% increase in the words, “lighter fare.” Popular lunch items like an imitation meat sandwich, cucumber salad, and avocado toast are both.
Restaurants and retail brands can create new offerings for lunch that consumers seek by following some of these trends. Get inspired by integrating new ingredients and products that are easy to make at home, satisfy the desires of both children and adults, and surprise consumers with innovative flavors or healthy options.