STAMFORD, Conn. -- The popularity of on-the-go foods could have more to do with convenience than portability -- indicating an maturation of the category to cover additional uses outside of the "immediate consumption" timeframe for which the products were created, according to a new consumer survey that revealed the majority of consumers said they eat "on-the-run meals" in the home.
No longer confined to dashboard dining, these items -- from numerous venues ranging from quick-service and casual dining restaurants to supermarket delis and fresh-meals merchandisers -- are becoming much more ingrained in the routine of daily life by their arrival on the dining room table.
In fact, 72% of those polled said they consumed portable foods at home, followed by the car (44%), at the office (39%), at a recreational activity (17%) and at school (14%), according to the online survey of 500 shoppers, conducted by research firm InsightExpress.
Regardless of use, the popularity of portable foods appears to be growing overall, based on survey results. Nine out of 10 consumers said they buy portable foods, and nearly three out of 10 said they are buying more convenience foods this year than last year. For survey purposes, the category was defined as foods that are ready-to-eat, easily prepared and portable.
Lunch is the most popular time for portable foods, with 55% of respondents indicating they eat to-go products as part of their mid-day meal, followed by breakfast (40%), mid-afternoon snacks (38%), and dinner (37%).
Despite their intended portability, convenience foods appeal to consumers for many other reasons, the survey found. Consumers select on-the-go foods based on reduced preparation time (70%), individual packaging (34%), and taste (28%). Nearly three out of four consumers (72%) said portable foods serve as a replacement for the meals or foods they used to eat.
While three out of five Americans said nutrition plays a significant role in deciding what foods to buy, only 21% said they choose convenience foods for a healthy alternative. Yet nearly three out of five (59%) said they would be more likely to buy convenience food products if they were more nutritious.
"With increasing daily time pressures and with more than half of consumers stating that on-the-go food is sometimes used as a meal replacement, this category continues to have enormous potential," said Lee Smith, president and chief operating officer of InsightExpress. "Successful manufacturers will understand how to balance convenience, nutrition and price to attract even more consumers."
Respondents were randomly recruited online to participate in the survey, which was created, distributed and tabulated during a 48-hour period in early April.