Couple eating takeaway food at home

It seems like a distant memory when restaurants were in an intense competition for share of households’ food dollars with other restaurants, grocery stores’ prepared foods, and emerging meal kit companies. In reality, it was just last year. Now that restaurant traffic has plummeted due to COVID-19, competition for revenue has become a matter of survival, sending food purveyors across retail channels searching for innovative solutions to take the bite out of the deficits while generating enough revenue to remain afloat.

Since snacking and mealtime have shifted dramatically to at-home eating occasions due to the pandemic, restaurants should be particularly mindful of the rapid evolution occurring around how consumers approach food, from convenience and leftovers to perceptions of what is healthy for the individual members of the household.

Hartman Group senior consultant Robertson Allen, Ph.D., points out that consumers are generally in alignment about what constitutes a meal, even if daily behaviors do not always adhere to the traditional model of having three meals every day.

For American consumers, meals are more culturally rooted occasions, and most consumers will say that a meal is an occasion that is ideally shared with others, is balanced with multiple food and nutritional components, involves some level of preparation or attention, imparts satiety or fullness, and is tied to the rhythm of daily patterns.

Snacks, on the other hand, says Allen, are less often shared with others and more personalized, can happen anytime or anywhere, do not need to be “balanced,” and typically do not require much, if any, planning.

The Hartman Group’s Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted report finds that the boundaries between a meal and snack can sometimes be indistinct, and leftovers are a great example of how these lines can become somewhat blurry.

With more at-home cooking taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have found themselves reaching for more types of non-traditional snack options more frequently now. At the same time, snacks have risen in visibility for consumers and play a larger role in their daily food and beverage routines.

At snack times at home, any food readily available inside the home is often considered “fair game,” including homemade snacks, lunch foods, and meal leftovers: 61% of consumers now have these types of foods and beverages as snacks more often than they did before COVID-19.

In 2020, 47% of consumers said they snacked on leftovers from a previous meal at least once during a typical week. The percentage of snacking occasions sourced fully from leftovers has increased significantly from 13% in 2019 to 16% in 2020.

As the pandemic continues, consumers’ newfound love of leftovers as a snack suggests opportunity for meals-oriented brands to market towards evolving snacking occasions and eating approaches.

According to Allen, home-based cooking is not the only source of leftovers, however, and restaurants wishing to reach new occasions and consumers during this time may want to consider how some consumers are utilizing food service as a source for leftovers.

Deola Female Snacking Report

Usage of Leftovers Has Increased as Americans Leverage Food Service to Fulfill Multiple Eating Occasions

The Hartman Group’s COVID-19’s Continued Impact on Eating report finds that today, 28% of all eating occasions involve leftovers (vs. 22% in fall 2019), with significant increases during morning snack and lunch occasions. Eating restaurant-sourced leftovers has become a more commonplace behavior during the pandemic, with 67% of leftovers occasions involving at least some food or beverage sourced from a restaurant (vs. 51% in fall 2019).

Leftovers consumption is highest among Millennials and parents. In fall 2020, 41% of occasions among Millennials involved at least some leftovers (+15% pts from fall 2019), and 45% of occasions among parents involved at least some leftovers (+16% pts from fall 2019).

Making the Most of the Food Leftovers Occasions Opportunity

A sizeable number of consumers are now deliberately ordering more food from restaurants to stretch the order to additional occasions, saving prep time and money on larger delivery orders in the process. These behaviors of sourcing “extra” orders from restaurants, with the intention to have a second (or third) occasion from the order, present a compelling area of opportunity for restaurants in increasing order sizes and bringing additional relevance to consumers wishing to have the convenience of prepared snack items on hand and in their homes.