Eating the week away: what drives evening meal choices?

Monday, 20 November 2017

With work and leisure commitments increasingly impacting on the amount of time we have to prepare and consume meals, what we are eating, and the reasons behind our choices make for interesting reading. Kantar Usage data suggests in-home meal consumption behaviour differs during the week compared to the weekend, with interesting patterns also emerging when looking at individual days of the week.

The challenge for red meat

The number of meat-free evening meal occasions during the week is growing as consumers increasingly look to reduce the amount of meat in their diet with health given as a primary reason. When looking at the number of meal occasions featuring red meat, we see a decline both during the week (Monday - Thursday) and at the weekend (Friday - Sunday), with a drop in occasions by 1.2% and 0.7% respectively.

Unsurprisingly, Sunday is the most popular day for red meat occasions given the importance of a British classic – the Sunday roast. When looking at the presence of red meat in evening meals, it loses importance as the week progresses. Households using up left-overs from the weekend roast at the beginning of the week may be one reason. Friday is where red meat features the least and the British tradition of ‘fish on Friday’ is a key factor influencing this.

Graph of meal occasions featuring different proteins by weekday

The week in profile

Looking at preparation methods, it is not a surprise that takeaways and convenience meals feature prominently on Fridays and Saturdays, when the need for a treat or a break from cooking is more important. Friday is the day where the least time is spent preparing an evening meal. Average preparation time does not vary much between weekdays and weekends, with consumers taking an average 32.6 minutes to prepare an evening meal during the week compared to just under 35 minutes at the weekend.

Looking at primary red meat, beef takes the least time to prepare, while pork takes the longest. The challenge for pork and indeed lamb is to feature in more dishes and to provide inspiration for easy-to-prepare, healthy and tasty meals especially during the week will be key to challenging the dominance of chicken midweek.

Image showing preparation time for meats is higher than the average for total food

Practicality is more important at the start of the week, suggesting consumers want easy to prepare and clear-up meals during this time. Beef is seen as the most practical red meat, with use of mince in dishes likely being a factor, while pork the least.

A few of our favourite things

Looking at what meals we eat and when, we see that Italian food (pasta meals, risotto, etc.) is the most popular type of food eaten by British consumers - accounting for just over 21% of all meal occasions and most commonly eaten during the week. Pies/pastries and sausages also tend to over index during the week, with ease of cooking a likely factor.

As previously mentioned, roast dinners feature highly at the weekend although their importance is reducing. Convenience and enjoyment are behind pizza’s importance at the weekend, while the desire for a lighter evening meal at weekends is likely to be why more sandwiches are consumed than on weekday evening occasions.

Graph of meal occasions by food type on a weekday or weekend

On average 21% of lamb evening meal occasions feature a roast, with this figure rising to 29% over the weekend. Beef is most commonly consumed in meals featuring pies/pastries followed by spaghetti bolognaise, with both being most commonly consumed during the week. For pork, the most popular meals are those featuring chops, followed by roast dinners, with chops over indexing during the week.

Opportunities for red meat

With health increasing in importance as decision factor for meal choice, the challenge for the red meat industry will be to retain its popularity in the face of meat alternatives and vegetarian options, as well as competing proteins such as chicken, which are perceived to be more healthy and versatile. During the week, when time is at a premium, the need to provide quick and easy meals, which are also healthy and tasty, will be key to ensuring red meat remains a relevant choice for consumers. Cuts that are quicker to cook and can be featured in more dish-based meals need to be promoted. The current pork medallions campaign by AHDB Pork seeks to address this this need. The campaign is designed to change the consumer perception of pork, positioning it as a quick, easy, healthy option to cook and eat during the week. The need to drive more red meat evening meal occasions during Friday and Saturday will also be a key to the fortunes of the industry.