The eating out sector has lost half a billion visits over the past year, due to a dip in frequency, the latest MCA data has shown.

The UK Eating Out Panel Q1 2018 report shows that in Q1 there was a 6.2% drop in the average number of out of home meal and snack visits over the last year, to 15.6 per head per month.

The fall in frequency has caused total visits to decrease by 5.5% to 9.7 billion in the year to March 2018, a drop of 565 million from the previous 12 months, despite increasing participation leading to a 0.8% rise in overall visitor levels to 51.6 million UK adults.

Frequency has declined at all day-parts, but fell fastest on dinner and snacking, as consumers looked to limit their activity at both the highest spend meal-time and on some of the more discretionary food and drink purchases in between meals.

The total market value, as implied by the consumer metrics, only fell by 3% despite the 5.5% decline in visits, due to price increases driving average spend up by 2.5%.

The report shows the lowest decrease in frequency, of 3%, at lunch, as the more everyday and less substitutable missions, such as lunch breaks from work or study, have grown in importance.

However, operators are advised to scrutinise their pricing strategies at this daypart, with the average lunch value up just 1%, much less than at other day-parts.

Sandwich shops and supermarket to-go ranges were the strongest performers in Q1. Only sandwich shops grew share of visits at all meal-times and snacks, while c-stores continue to eat into the share of foodservice rivals at all day-parts bar dinner.

Out of the Top 10 brands across all channels, Greggs has been the biggest riser in both share of breakfast and snack visits, while Pret A Manger, most admired brand for the ninth year running in MCA’s recent Top of Mind survey, has also achieved significant growth in its share at both breakfast and lunch.

Tesco has made the biggest gain in share at the increasingly important lunch day-part, overtaking troubled KFC, while its 14 point increase in NPS was unmatched.

To find out more about the Eating Out Panel, please contact enquiries@mca-insight.com