The Morning Advertiser’s sister title MCA revealed in its Eating Out Panel, which conducted more than 18,000 online interviews with UK consumers, that lunch occasions at pubs increased from 107.9m in January to March (Q1) in 2016 to 110m (up by 1.9%) over the same period in 2017.
Spend on lunch over Q1 rose from £1.23bn in 2016 to almost £1.3bn in 2017, a total increase of 5.4%.
Over the same time period this year, almost one fifth (18.5%) of all consumer lunch visits were to pubs, up from 17.4% compared to last year.
Disparity between pubs and supermarkets
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive Kate Nicholls lauded the figures, which she said paid testament to pubs that have improved their food off.
She said: “At lunch time, diners have constraints on their time, so it also reflects consumer confidence that the service they receive in pubs is efficient.
“What is particularly impressive, however, is that such growth has been achieved despite the disparity in discounting opportunities between pubs and supermarkets.”
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds hailed the statistics as "encouraging".
She added: "There is great variety, value and quality in the pub lunchtime offering, and it’s part of a continuing trend in getting the most out of venues at different times of the day. We are seeing many pubs moving into the breakfast trade too, and accommodation is another growth area.”
According the British Sandwich Association, which cited data from Kantar Worldpanel, price is the most consistent driver of growth for sandwiches in the off-trade.
Food-to-go drives growth
The average price for a sandwich in the off-trade rose from around £2.10 in 2014 to around £2.25 last year.
The food-to-go category has increased its share of total eating-out visits by 1.4 percentage points to 42.3% compared to last year, according to MCA analysis.
MCA director of insight Steve Gotham highlighted food-to-go as a key growth driver within the eating-out market.
He said: “The relative affordability of food-to-go has long been a key source of its popularity. However, average spend per head per visit thresholds of £5 (for lunch) and £3 (for snacking) were breached during the year – and with the likelihood of additional price rises being passed on during the year, there is the prospect that consumers might start to rein in some visit frequency.”