UK consumers are the biggest on-the-go eaters and drinkers in Europe, according to research released today. 

Over 22% of all eating occasions in the UK happen on-the-go, compared to a European average of 15%, the market analyst Datamonitor claims in a report. Finding healthy and nutritious products when on-the-go, however, proves extremely difficult for many. 

Some 58% of the British population is overweight or obese, and although consumers are increasingly aware of the need to change their diet, the increase in eating on-the-go impairs their ability to maintain healthy diets, the report claims.

"Food and drink manufacturers are under pressure to respond to the growing potential of legislative and consumer backlash as well as potential tobacco-type industry lawsuits as the obesity epidemic gains political momentum.  Manufacturers will need to market a broader range of healthy offerings if they are to appear credible in the eyes of the consumers" said Dominik Nosalik, consumer analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report.

By 2007, almost a quarter of all eating occasions in the UK will be on-the go.  Drinking on-the-go is even more popular - rising from 24% in 2002 to over 29% in 2007. Changing working patterns, rising commute times and the breakdown of regular mealtimes mean that consumers spend more time eating and drinking when on-the-move or whilst working on the job.

However, the report shows that the overriding need for convenience means that health takes a back seat in consumers' food and drink choices. British consumers eat healthily only 31% of the time when on-the-go - compared to 44% of the Swedes and 43% of the Dutch.  

"Not being able to find healthy products on-the-go is the number one barrier preventing healthy behaviour.  The limited number of healthy options in on-the-go distribution channels and limited awareness and marketing of healthy brands make it hard for consumers to find healthy products. Another barrier is the cost: a third of consumers do not buy healthy products as often because they think that products sold as being "healthy" are more costly than standard versions," said Datamonitor.

The report went on: "Factoring health into food and drink choices has never been more significant than it is today. Consumers are learning more about health and in particular more actively self-managing their health.  Manufacturers and retailers, however, are failing to offer consumers the right type of healthy products. Diet products proliferate the healthy options offered to consumers on the move, however, weight control is only their number two concern.  In addition, consumers are increasingly sceptical about the true healthiness of products marketed as 'healthy'.  'Low and lite' on-the-go products come in for particular attack, with few consumers trusting their nutritional integrity."

Instead, products that support long term general health and fitness as opposed to short-term weight loss are apparently the number one requirement among consumers on-the-go.

"Not only are consumers disappointed at the difficulty of sourcing healthy products they can trust on-the-go, but manufacturers and retailers will come under increasing pressure to market a broader range of healthy foods as the problem of obesity becomes an increasingly political and financial issue," concludes Nosalik.