What is Lunchflation? The Silent Budget Killer in The Corporate Workplace

Lunchflation is steepening people’s budgets and making lunches stressful! But there are ways to improve this.
Megan Ballingall

The price of coffee and sandwiches has gone up exponentially in recent years. That’s no exaggeration: to get specific, we have seen a 97% increase in the price of Americanos since 2019, and a 21% increase in the average salad. It might sound small, but imagine where prices could be in another three years. And meanwhile, employee salaries are not always inflating.

We’re facing an epidemic of lunchflation - the steady rise of commodities like sandwiches that employees need to purchase every single day, and outpacing earned wages. It mounts up. Looking deeper, menu prices in restaurants and cafes are higher than ever before. Some employees now spend $20 or more on lunch, every day when working in the office. For many, this is unsustainable.

But hold your horses, is there anything we can do about this? Inflation might be out of our hands, but surely lunch isn’t? In this article, we take a more detailed look at lunchflation, and at how we can save ourselves some lunch money on a day-to-day basis.

Inflation Affecting Food Prices 

Let’s break it down globally. Average global food prices are around 25% higher than in 2015. Inflation prices in the United States reached an all-time high of 7.9% in February of this year, which is reflected in the rising costs of food. 

According to the Daily Mail, the average price of a lunch wrap has risen from just $9.05 to $10.21 since early 2020. Since the start of the pandemic, the average costs of burgers and sandwiches have also risen by over a dollar. 

While this might sound insignificant, a dollar a day can add up to hundreds of extra dollars yearly. On average, workers have found that their usual lunch expenses have increased anywhere from $4 to $10 a day

It’s not just food chains that have announced price increases either. The popular coffee chain Starbucks recently increased its prices to counteract increased transportation costs and supply chain difficulties.  

Our data below shows how menu prices have changed in a short time:

Average price of popular menu items on Ritual in 2019 vs 2022.

Increasing Grocery Prices 

Grocery prices have risen up to 8.6% per year, with this year seeing the largest increase since 1981. And if you think about it, this slow increase in prices has an impact on restaurants and consumers alike. Because of it, the collective U.S. workforce is struggling to save money regarding food, and even preparing a daily packed lunch for work can be costly in 2022, because guess what? The packed lunch ingredients come from grocery stores. The costs are always pushed onto the consumer

What is Causing Lunchflation? 

There’s a lot of speculation around the cause of lunchflation and how we can tackle it. Of course, price changes were expected due to the pandemic. There were always going to be unavoidable economic consequences for such an extreme situation. However, nobody could have predicted how significantly COVID-19 would impact food prices.  

In March 2020, food prices actually dropped due to a decrease in mineral oil prices and generally lower consumer demands. However, by the summer of 2020, food prices began to increase again. 

Global food prices have surged since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, reaching an average global food price index of 159.3, the highest it’s been by far in years. In fact, 159.3 points indicate an almost 60% increase in food prices between 2014 and 2016. 

The Bottom Line

Lunchflation has caused people to be far more conscious about where their money goes regarding their daily coffee and sandwiches. At the end of the day, we all have to eat no matter what, and so in order to fight against lunchflation, employers can consider looking at cost-effective ways to provide catering to their staff.

To this end, Ritual for Companies ensures that your budget goes further with its consumption-based model. It’s a seamless corporate catering solution that gives employees the ability to order lunches from hundreds of local restaurants, with something for everyone. 

No matter how you do it, your efforts to combat lunchflation will remove one more small stress from your employees’ lives, ensuring that they don’t have to worry about what they’re going to have for lunch every day - you’ve got their backs.

Megan Ballingall
Megan Ballingall