European consumers are increasingly skipping meals at home and instead opting to snack or eat in restaurants, a trend that is set to continue on the back of hectic lifestyles, says a new report by Datamonitor.
And it is consumers in the Northern countries of Europe, such as Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands, who are setting the pace.
"Eating habits are evolving to meet the pace and structure of daily life. Consumers are responding to nutritional needs and the demands of daily life by missing meals, changing the times at which they eat and even changing the type of products they eat at each occasion," said Matthew Adams, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the new report.
Breakfast and lunch are the two meals most impacted by the demands of daily life. According to Datamonitor, European consumers are increasingly skipping breakfast, especially in the UK where almost one third of breakfasts are missed. And by 2010, this number is forecast to increase, as more and more working consumers are likely to skip breakfast altogether or eat something out-of-home.
And "lunch on the run" is also becoming commonplace, according to Datomonitor, which forecasts that 5.2 billion extra breakfasts, lunches, evening meals and snacks in Britain will be consumed outside the home in 2010 compared with 2005.
"Many consumers are moving away from three core meals because they are skipping meals out of necessity. Some consumers are instead eating only when hungry, and eating more frequent meals of smaller portion size, " Adams said.
The biggest European spenders on eating out- which includes purchases from retail and foodservice- are the Italians, who spend an average of €1,825 a year. The British are next in line, spending €1,765 a year, followed by the French at €1,543.
But on the basis of how many meals or snacks are actually consumed outside the home, UK consumers are top of the list, beating even their US counterparts who come in at second place. The Netherlands, Spain and Italy come next, followed shortly by Sweden, France and Germany.
And with eating out becoming increasingly commonplace, it is rarely considered a "special occasion" but more often an "affordable option," where quality and variety is largely taken for granted.
This means that although most consumers are driven to eating out because of a lack of time, they expect more than just convenience, and are not willing to compromise on quality.
According to Datamonitor, key trends for marketers to pick up on include the need for "easy health wins." This involves incorporating fortified formulations, more freshness and enhanced ingredients that are at the heart of premium products both in retail and foodservice channels.
Food and drink products sold at retail must also learn from foodservice operators, said Datamonitor, by providing better variety of tastes and flavours and thereby strengthening the emotional bond between consumers and their food and drinks.