Operators must offer food from breakfast to bedtime with everything in between or they will be left behind by their competition, according to foodservice research company Horizons.

There is a real opportunity for foodservice operators to grow their lunchtime trade as the definition of lunch broadens and consumers become more adventurous in their choices, said Emma Read, Horizons’ director of marketing and business development. 

Speaking at the lunch! trade show in London on Thursday (24 September), she said lunch was beginning to blur with the breakfast and snacking sectors and even with evening meals.

“Consumers expect to be able to eat when they want, wherever they happen to be whether it’s out shopping, at work, travelling or in a garden centre. Lunch is extending beyond its traditional times – it could now be anything from mid-morning to late afternoon. Operators need to be prepared for this and adapt,” she said.

“There are also new, innovative chains offering a much wider choice of lunchtime dishes – how much longer can the humble sandwich be our lunch of choice when you can buy fantastically healthy salads, noodle pots and a vast array of other foods-to-go?”

Currently around 3.5 billion lunch meals are sold accounting for 44.5% of the foodservice sector. This share has grown 2% since 2012 and is likely to expand by a further 5.6% by 2018.

Read outlined some of the changes the market has undergone as operators embrace demand for faster, contactless payment methods, food ordering apps, delivery to desk or home, food on the go and bespoke dishes, as well catering for those with allergen requirements and specific health issues.

“Food is becoming increasingly personalised – you only have to look at what’s on offer from some of the new chains on the high street. Food stalls are selling exciting, innovative food that’s healthy, great value, easy to eat and different. They satisfy consumers’ desire to try something new.”