You’re on your way to work, you’ve a busy day ahead and won’t get time to stop for lunch. You stop at the garage en route for the office, fill up with petrol and at the same time grab something for lunch. Sound familiar? It might not be for you personally but it will be for many of your customers. Busy lifestyles leave little time for lunch, which means many consumers will take advantage of a well-stocked chiller full of lunch solutions. They’ll buy their sandwich and their drink and eat it at their desk later.

According to Mintel’s Lunchtime Eating Habits report, most people take a lunchbreak of half an hour or less and they see weekday lunchtimes as the chance to grab a bite to eat rather than as a major meal occasion. Few of those surveyed skip lunch altogether.

Mintel also found that 40 per cent of people eat their lunch at home during the week. The next most popular place to eat lunch was the work or school canteen followed by at the desk at work. Men aged 25-44 are most likely to eat their lunch at their desk.

Again according to Mintel, last year retail sales of lunch foods (bread and rolls, canned fish, cheese, sliced cooked meats, instant soups and noodles, ready-to-eat pies and savoury spreads) were estimated to have been worth around £6.7bn. Mintel says there’s been little growth in these markets over the past few years with the exception of instant noodles, ready-to-eat pies and cooked meat slices.

Sandwiches are still favourite for weekday lunch and although homemade are most popular, the ready-made sandwich market grew by 46 per cent between 1998 and last year when sales reached £3.5bn.

But for consumers fed up with a sandwich at lunchtime there are other convenient solutions such as Heinz Soup Cups. Ninfa Grazzini, senior brand manager for Heinz Soup Cups explains: “As meals become lighter, we have identified a need for new, high quality convenient snacking products to increase consumer choice beyond traditional ‘grab and go’ options. This coincides with the growth of preparation options available in the workplace, which includes microwaves as well as kettles and toasters.”

Heinz Soup Cups are microwavable and although they are an ambient product, the manufacturer recommends that they are sited in the chiller cabinet next to sandwiches and other chilled snacks. This positioning is said to encourage complementary purchases. Says Grazzini: “We trialled Soup Cups in store over a six-week period, sited in the chiller cabinet, on the soups fixture and on the instant snacks fixture. We found that sales of Soup Cups in the chiller cabinet were double those sited elsewhere.

“Our research shows that the sandwich/soup combination is a very popular choice for consumers at lunchtime.”

Interestingly Heinz research also found that consumers spend an average of two minutes 20 seconds in store on an impulse purchase, of which at least 40 seconds are spent in front of the chiller cabinet. “This represents a massive opportunity for retailers: the pre-pack sandwich market is worth £3bn per year, and 80 per cent of full time workers are eating out of home five days a week. In addition, 63 per cent of soup is consumed at lunch and our research shows that 72 per cent of consumers who tried Soup Cup ate it with a sandwich or bread.”

To aid merchandising in the chiller, Heinz has developed a joint unit for its branded sandwiches and Soup Cups that sits inside the chiller cabinet. “This ensures Heinz Soup Cups and sandwiches are instantly identifiable, helping the consumer make their choice in those critical 40 seconds,” says Grazzini.

From soup to salad, and Country Choice has launched a Salad to Go concept designed to help retailers create a point of difference in their stores. Like Country Choice’s Bake ‘n’ Bite concept, Salad to Go comes with everything needed to operate a profitable salad offering including premium quality ingredients, packaging, salad pots and menu guide. It allows retailers to create their own menu of freshly prepared salads by simply blending the wide selection of ingredients available to produce either a ‘layered’ or an ‘all in one’ salad.

A layered salad comprises a combination of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber topped with a protein ingredient – either cheese, fish, meat or a vegetarian pre-prepared filling. Retailers can mix and match from iceberg lettuce or continental leaf salad with fillings such as prawn marie rose, tuna mayonnaise, honey roast gammon ham, and coronation chicken as well as vegetarian options like hard boiled egg, grated mature cheddar, hummus and potato salad.

The all-in-one salad is made up of only one or two ingredients, the main one being a pasta or noodle style salad such as Thai noodle or Caesar pasta topped with one of the cheese, fish, meat or vegetarian fillings.

The salads are easy to create and can take less time than it takes to fill a baguette. There are two pot sizes: 500cc and 375cc, with rrps between £1.99 and £2.49 depending on the filling used. This should give a profit margin of between 40-60 per cent. Country Choice customers who already buy the company’s chilled sandwich fillings can use these as a main ingredient of their salads, adding further value to their purchase.

Pork pies, sausage rolls, scotch eggs and pasties are all lunchtime favourites and supplier Pork Farms is reporting increased sales and market share as time-pressured consumers look for quality convenience food.

Gary Johnston, Pork Farms Bowyers marketing director, says: “The day of the long office lunch and hours spent preparing meals has all but disappeared and UK consumers are seeking premium quality easy-to-eat food on an increasingly regular basis.”

Pork Farms products are this month being relaunched in a fresh new packaging design.

The new look uses the company’s established green and gold colours but more clearly conveys its reputation for tradition and quality. The revamp is designed to give the entire product range maximum on-shelf stand-out, with shelf strips and shelf wobblers available to retailers to create added impact.

“Our packaging redesign features high impact branding which will benefit forecourt retailers by making Pork Farms products instantly recognisable to potential customers,” says Johnston. Pork Farms’ products are distributed to the forecourt sector by Kerry Foods.

Whatever you decide to stock make sure you cash in on the lunchtime opportunity – there are lots of hungry punters out there.