The traditional foodservice dayparts have been under fire for some time now. For the past 15 years, pundits (myself included) have claimed that three square meals per day no longer exist. 


Instead, we have become a nation of “grazers” who eat where and whenever we feel necessary.


One doesn’t have to look farther than the industry’s focus on the 2p-5p snacking period – such as a 2 for 1 Starbucks latte – or the late-night hanker with Wendy’s 24-hour drive-thru. 


We have often claimed that operators might do well to focus on need-states instead of particular dayparts. Need-states include anything like energy boost, comfort, a thirst quencher, etc, and can occur at any time.


During Covid-19, many Americans have been working at home. After the stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, many of us fell into a new habit of dining.


A Possible Hypothesis for Rising Lunch Traffic


One of the habits we believe will become more ingrained post-Covid-19 will be the growth of the lunch daypart. Already, coffee at-home has taken significant share from coffee shops, and by 11am or so, remote workers are ready to “stretch” their legs and head to the nearest market for a bite to eat. By evening, these same consumers are more likely to order out or use what they purchased at lunch.


This is only a hypothesis but tends to be the behavior observed in suburbia – and with urban areas shuttered many Americans have been thrusted into the latter.


Remote Workers Are Driving the Growth


With many American companies seeing its workers productive and in some ways “happier” working remotely, the days of the morning commute and evening drive-thru may never return to pre-March 2020 levels.


Instead, we see remote, suburban workers jump into the car for a lunch or snack item at the nearest grocery or convenience store.


Take for example the change in traffic at a convenience store from our November convenience store foodservice study. Convenience stores are an important barometer of overall foodservice health because they are most likely to stay open during high levels of Covid – and may be the only alternative to a quick-service restaurant.


How has your store’s traffic changed pre-Covid-19 to today?


Daypart Today Pre-Covid
Breakfast (5am-8:59am) 2% 5%
Late morning meal/snack (9am-10:59am) 13% 5%
Lunch (11am-1:59pm) 46% 25%
Afternoon meal/snack (2pm-3:59pm) 20% 24%
Dinner (4pm-7:59pm) 16% 25%
Late night meal/snack (8pm-11:59pm) 3% 13%
Overnight (Midnight-4:59am) 0% 2%

Source: Foodservice IP C-Store Retailer Survey, Nov. 2020


While c-stores are only one segment example, we have observed the trend continue through several of the commercial restaurant segments (fast casual, casual dining, quick-service, etc.)


Plan for Middle-of-the-Day Solutions


What this means for suppliers is that items will be required to meet middle of the day consumer desires. All foodservice categories – beverages, sandwiches, salads, baked goods and desserts – look to benefit. 


As the U.S. moves into the winter months, a new round of restaurant lock-downs have just begun. It would be wise for suppliers to consider that the lunch daypart will likely be a permanent fixture of high-traffic for the foreseeable future based on the high percentage of remote, suburban workers.

Tim Powell is a Managing Principal of Foodservice IP. Tim serves as a trusted foodservice adviser to management at several food companies.

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