Time-starved Brits eat on their feet

Related tags Snack food Meal

Britain may not be the biggest country in Europe, but this does not
stop its denizens from being among the most mobile. UK commuters
spend more time travelling than all of their European counterparts
- and take advantage of that time to catch up on eating and

The combination of small surface area and large population means that Britain's transport system is some of the most congested in Europe, and while sitting in a traffic jams or stuck on a train inexplicably brought to a grinding halt by leaves on the line may be hugely frustrating, but it does at least give travellers the chance to catch up on breakfast - or get ahead with lunch, depending on how long the delays are.

British commuters have the highest number of journeys in Europe, according to a report from market analysts Datamonitor​, at 6.4 per person per day, and spend an average of over one hour travelling every day - all of which gives them many more consumption occasions.

It is not surprising, therefore, that per capita expenditure of 'on-the-move' foods and drinks in the UK is Europe's highest at £229 per year - a figure which is likely to grow even more in the future as working hours lengthen and the number of journeys increases.

"This growing perception of journey time as personal time has been encouraged by developments in portable technology, most notably the mobile phone, allowing users to treat public space as if it were private. This growing willingness to multi-task during journeys encourages on-the-move consumption,"​ said Lawrence Gould, consumer analyst at Datamonitor and author of the People on the move 2003​ report.

Gould said that British consumers made 138 billion journeys in 2003, but that this figure was likely to reach 140 billion in 2008. And as the private car remains the preferred mode of transport, accounting for 39 per cent of all journeys in 2003, more and more meal occasions are expected to take place behind the steering wheel.

"Because the car provides a home away from home, it acts as a mobile 'privacy bubble', and lends itself well to on-the-move consumption," Gould said.

So what is it that on-the-move commuters are eating in their cars, on the train and on the Tube? According to Datamonitor, snacks and take-away meals account for over 38 per cent of the average British consumer's expenditure on on-the-move food, while on-the-move drinking is mainly focused on tea and coffee, especially in winter. In 2003, Britons spent £1.4 billion on hot drinks, compared to £0.8 billion on both water and soft drinks.

Snacks may be replacing a certain number of traditional meals for many, but consumers nonetheless retain a certain emotional attachment to mealtimes, Gould suggested. This means that snacks must not only be convenient, they must also increasingly meet traditional meal-related demands for pleasure, fulfilment and taste.

"In the mind of a high proportion of consumers, however, on-the-move food and drink is viewed as being of poor quality, either because it is unhealthy, or quite simply has an unpleasant taste or texture," said Gould. "One way to change this is to increase the offering of hot on-the-move meals. Consumers will pay a premium for what is essentially an everyday treat, and a similar approach can be taken to encourage time-pressed consumers to eat on-the-move," he added.

On-the-move snacking is most prevalent in northern European countries such as the UK, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, according to the report, driven primarily by the working culture there which is traditionally more intensive than in countries further south, where the hot weather tends to lead to a more relaxed lifestyle.

But that is not to say that there is no such on-the-go market in the Mediterranean countries - it is jut less advanced. Per capita consumption of snacks in Italy, for example, was £128 in 2003, well below the European average of £161, while in Spain it was a mere £56.

The snack food market has traditionally been quick to respond to changing consumer requirements, with products such as cereal bars and 'low n lite' snacks developed in response to changing lifestyles.

The key now will be to maintain this level of new product development to take advantage of the increasingly mobile European consumer while at the same time satisfying the other important requirements of health and convenience.

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