ROSEMONT, IL — As time-pressed workers try to cut costs and eat healthier, brown-bagging is becoming increasingly popular in the American workplace, according to a new study from market research firm The NPD Group. NPD reports that the rise in lunches carried from home is contributing to the softening of the midday meal business at commercial restaurants.
According to the study, entitled “How Brown-Bagging Is Affecting Foodservice Lunch,” weekday lunches carried from home reached a new high point in 2007, increasing from 35 bagged lunches per capita in 2006 to 38 in 2007. This translates to a total of 8.5 billion brown bag lunches a year for adults 18 and older.
Adult males carry brown-bagged weekday lunches most frequently, but adult females have driven gains over the last few years, according to NPD. White-collar professionals with mid to high incomes tend to have the greatest interest in carrying weekday lunches from home. The most frequent brown-baggers pack lunch an average of three times per week.
“There are a number of factors adversely affecting the midday meal business at restaurants, and brown-bagging is one of them,” said Harry Balzer, vice-president, The NPD Group, who authored Eating Patterns in America. “Certainly the economy, growing unemployment, a slowdown in the number of women entering the workforce, more telecommuting options and the erosion of disposable personal income are also influencing consumers’ lunchtime behaviors.”
Among consumers who typically visit restaurants for weekday lunches, nearly half said they were visiting less often, a pattern that applies to quick-service and full-service restaurants alike. NPD reports that declines in foodservice weekday lunches are largely the result of fewer meals being ordered from both commercial and noncommercial outlets (e.g., workplace cafeterias) to take back and eat at the workstation.
Consumers cite financial concerns as the top reason for carrying lunches from home more often, and health and nutrition ranked second. Other reasons include convenience, taste, diet, quality and environmental concerns.
Brown-baggers told NPD also cited financial reasons as why they no longer visit, or have cut back on visiting, casual dining, mid-scale and fast casual restaurants. Health and nutrition are the key reasons they say they are cutting back on, or no longer visiting, convenience stores and fast-food eateries.
“Consumers haven’t wanted to invest a lot of time, money or energy into lunch, which is why, historically, fast-food restaurants have been so successful,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst and author of the NPD report. “The QSR segment is heavily dependent on lunch, typically capturing nearly 80% of the total lunch business, and it’s this segment that brown-bagging most negatively impacts.”
Riggs pointed out that even if the economy improves and consumers begin to feel more financially stable, there are longer-term behavioral shifts restaurants need to address in order to compete with the brown-bag lunch.
“A major challenge for foodservice operators is to overcome the perception that ‘what’s in the bag’ is better, fresher than that ordered from a restaurant,” she said. “Restaurants need to offer variety and healthier/lighter menu options at a fair price point, and the food needs to taste great too.”