The British are continuing to abandon traditional sit down family meals in favour of snacks, according to a new report by market analysts Datamonitor.

The report shows that rigid and structured mealtimes have become more informal, fragmented and less important than ever before to today's time-pressed consumers. By 2009, Datamonitor estimates Brits will consume nearly 3bn fewer main meals at home with breakfast being the most frequently missed meal. However, even though consumers are increasing their snack consumption, and choose 'pit-stop' dining and 'eating on-the-go', health concerns are still weighing on their minds.

"Increasingly, consumers are fitting their meals around their busy lifestyles rather than prioritizing time to structured mealtimes. This has also meant that less time is devoted to cooking," said Daniel Bone, consumer analyst at Datamonitor.
 
Consumers continue to skip 'the most important meal of the day' despite campaigns from manufacturers stressing its nutritional importance. In 2004, the average British consumer missed 114 breakfasts a year, and Datamonitor forecasts this will grow to 120 in 2009. By comparison, their European counterparts missed on average 72 breakfasts a year in 2004. "Consumers have limited time in the morning due to work commitments. More and more are opting to sacrifice breakfast or substitute it for a morning snack to save time. In the UK, this is becoming increasingly possible with the proliferation of products targeting such fragmented consumption," said Bone.

In Europe, missed Breakfast occasions account for 69% of the total number of missed meal occasions and Datamonitor expects this to increase by 10% over the next five years. By 2009, the average European will skip 21.4% of their Breakfast occasions, which equates to 78 Breakfasts a year per person.

In 2004, out-of-home consumption in the UK accounted for 31% of all eating occasions, and is set to rise to over 35% by 2009, representing an additional 4.2 bn extra meal and snacks eaten out of home. In contrast, the number of in-home meal and snack occasions is forecast to decline by 1.7 bn.

The foodservice sector is also set to benefit from increases of out of home consumption. Datamonitor forecasts that in Europe, the number of food and drink transactions will increase by 2.6 billion in 2009 relative to 2004.

The desire for "home-made" meals among consumers remains, although changing lifestyles means it has become more difficult for consumers to achieve. In Europe 63% of consumers believed it is important to cook inspiring meals for their families, compared to 53% of UK consumers.
 
"Lifestyle factors are crucial in influencing consumer behaviours. Many consumers still aspire to the notion of a home-cooked meal, but this has only affected a small few. Overall, there has been a significant decline in cooking from scratch. Consumers are spending less time cooking, are eating out of home more often and purchasing more prepared meals and snacks than previously. Primarily, consumers want to save time and energy as well as making up for their lack of culinary skills by choosing ready-made meals. However, such meals that can promote home-made authentic credentials could further drive growth in the sector," said Bone.

According to Datamonitor 72% of Europeans claim to be more concerned about their health and general well-being than the previous year. The report showed 80% of US and European consumers believed it is important to improve their health through their diet. This suggests that the attitude-behaviour gap on healthy eating is diminishing.

"Consumers have become demanding and want convenient, tasty, healthy products that are widely available. It seems snacking be it pit-stop dining, desk-top dining or eating on the go, is continuing to help make traditional mealtimes a thing of the past. However it is important for manufacturers to recognize the need to meet consumer demands for healthier and more nutritious snacks to help compensate for missed meals," said Bone.