Across Europe lunchtime has been losing its importance as a meal occasion.

According to Reuters Business Insight's new report 'Future Lunch Solutions,' hectic lifestyles and increased snacking have compressed the lunchbreak into little more than a re-fuelling pit stop. The UK has one of the lowest per head spends on working lunch reflecting the declining long lunch culture. Sandwiches rule the roost in the UK and are becoming increasingly popular across other European countries. Despite being in a hurry, consumers are not skimping on health; traditional ingredients and meat-based foods are expected to lose importance in the future to ethnic, organic and vegetarian food products.

"Consumers' behaviour towards lunchtime has changed because of several key factors: more hectic lifestyles and longer working hours have compressed the lunch break of many office workers into little more than a half-hour 'pit stop'. Traditional meal times have deteriorated with consumers snacking throughout the day. However lunch is rarely missed altogether as it is increasingly viewed as a moment, however brief, for office workers to treat themselves as a reward following a stressful morning or as a diversion from office boredom," comments Daniel Lord, Reuters Business Insight analyst and author of the report.

Working lunch accounts for the majority of lunchtime expenditure and is a clear opportunity for manufacturers targeting out-of-home consumption. Drinks account for about 5-10% of the lunch market in most countries, although the contribution made by alcoholic drinks varies between countries. In France, for example, there is relatively high acceptance of drinking some alcohol with lunch, while it is now a rare accompaniment to lunch in the UK. In the UK, the lunch market is expected to grow substantially, with the market forecast to be worth around £16bn (US$24.7bn) in 2005.

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