What Is Eating Someone's Lunch?

Eating someone's lunch is a colloquial expression that generally means to outcompete or unfairly take advantage of someone. In the business world, it refers to aggressive competition that results in one company taking portions of another company's market share—the percentage of an industry or market's total sales that is achieved by one company during a specified time period.

Eating someone's lunch may also refer to literally taking and eating a meal from a coworker.

Key Takeaways

  • Eating someone's lunch, in general, refers to defeating or outwitting an opponent.
  • In the corporate world, eating someone's lunch is to take market share from a competitor.
  • Often, aggressive business tactics and marketing strategies are put to use to steal someone's lunch.

How Eating Someone's Lunch Works

Eating someone's lunch generally refers to defeating or outwitting an opponent. In the business world, it describes situations where one company outperforms another and earns a larger market share.

A more aggressive company "eats the lunch" of another company when it takes some of its competitor's market share. This can be achieved through the release of a better or newer product, aggressive pricing or marketing strategies, or other competitive advantages. When these strategies result in one company having a bigger market share for a particular product or service, the company gaining the larger market share from the other is said to be eating someone's lunch.

Eating someone's lunch is considered a necessary component of a competitive market, and may help bring better pricing and services to consumers as companies compete for larger market shares. A company may eat someone's lunch at one point in time, only to have their own lunch eaten during a subsequent time as competitors fight back for market share.

In the workplace, eating someone's lunch may literally refer to the theft and consumption by an employee of a prepared meal that belongs to another employee. Such meals may consist of homemade sandwiches, processed microwaveable dishes, or leftovers from the previous evening's meal. Higher quality, more desirable lunches may be more likely to be targeted and taken.

Eating someone's lunch is generally considered to be unethical workplace conduct and can lead to conflict between employees or even workplace violence. It is a potentially risky career move. Employees who are caught eating someone's lunch may be subject to disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal from their jobs or criminal prosecution.

Example of Eating Someone's Lunch

XYZ Company has seen its industry mature and its organic growth taper off. While there used to be dozens of small companies in XYZ Company's industry, the industry has shaken out and now there are only a few large companies with established chunks of market share.

XYZ Company wants to establish dominance and take market share from its competitors, so it begins to lower its pricing while developing a new technology that, if patented, will place its product head and shoulders above the competition at a lower price point. If this strategy succeeds, XYZ will be eating its competition's lunch and getting all of their market share.

This example could also be reversed if XYZ Company is a dominant player in its industry that has become complacent. New, more vigorous competitors may see this as an opportunity and enter the market in an attempt to capture market share from XYZ. If they are successful at doing so, they could eat XYZ's lunch.

In both of these examples, eating someone's lunch focuses on competition between businesses for business share in a relatively limited, mature market. Eating someone's lunch is less often used to refer to growth strategies in emerging or immature markets where opportunities for growth abound.

However, it may still apply if a business's competitive strategy is focused on rapid growth for the purpose of pre-empting competition. A company that can grow and scale up fast enough in a new market, or as a first-mover, may sometimes be said to eat the lunch of potential rivals who are late to the market.