The value of the UK informal eating-out market is expected to grow by 2.8% in 2011 to reach £42bn, driven by a growth in the low-mid value sector, as consumers increasingly seek value for money. According to a new survey by analysts Allegra Strategies, consumers are eating more than in 2010 but reduced disposable income and low spend thresholds are increasingly influencing their choice when deciding where to eat. The survey, which was put together from 2,000 interviews with consumers and 180 interviews with UK foodservice senior executives during April – June 2011, found that on average one in nine meals are being consumed away from home in 2011, increasing from one in 10 last year. The research, which defines the informal eating–out market as comprising coffee shops, fast food outlets and takeaways, informal restaurants, sandwich bars, pubs, workplace canteens, leisure venues and travel locations, including forecourt shops, found that lunchtime visits are increasing, from 3.4 per month in 2010 to 4.1 per month this year. It said that lunch is the most popular meal eaten out of home, with 34% of consumers having at least one lunch meal out per week, compared with 23% for dinner and 15% for breakfast. The reliance by consumers on promotions and discounts is also increasing with one in two adults regularly using vouchers this year, compared to one in three in 2010. The report found that coffee shops have the highest visit frequencies, with 23% of customers making at least one meal purchase per week. Although previous experience continues to be the main driver of venue choice for consumers, the research found that the time of day can impact choice, which consumers looking for convenience and quality at lunch against food quality and atmosphere in the evening. The issue of health has also grown in importance for consumers, with 92% stating they have or would like to have a healthier lifestyle compared to 88% in 2010. The report found that local and regional sourcing remains the most important ethical initiative for operators to engage in, according to 43% of consumers, while over half of consumers stated that they prefer to eat out at establishments where ingredients are locally or regionally sourced. Anya Gascoine Marco, head of food and beverage insight at Allegra, said: “The increasing visit frequency shows that regardless of prevailing economic conditions, people are determined to continue to enjoy themselves when they can. There is still concern in the industry however and rightly so, as key economic indicators show no signs of significant improvement until at least 2013. “More engagement from operators with the evermore sophisticated UK consumer is essential to strengthen loyalty and attract new customers and help them move away from their habitual discount voucher use. “A key method to connect with consumers on both fronts and across all marketing communications is through the increasingly popular social media platforms. This gives operators the chance to truly engage with their customers and potentially increase sales. “There is also a strong opportunity for operators to harness the increasing lunchtime frequency with express delivery formats and reduce dependency on evening day-parts. “A positive future is anticipated with a return to pre-recessionary growth predicted for 2013 and consumers increasing their propensity to eat out.”

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