THE EXECUTIVE LUNCH

You make it to the top and you get fancy, expense-account lunches every day-right?Not exactly. According to a recent survey of America's Fortune 500 companies, the fovorite lunch of America's top CEOs is soup or sandwich. A Sandwich was chosen by 57 percent of the respondents; 51 percent eat soup. Salad is the next most popular choice: 46 percent often order it for lunch.

Working frantically through lunch seens to be a thing of the past; only three percent of the respondents skip lunch altogether. A large majority (843 percent) believe that eating lunch helps to fortify them for their afternoon's work Eating lunch is a sensible strategy to help them perform in peak condition, say the top corporate executives. Some 79 percent say eating lunch helps them "shift gears" or "take a breather" so they can feel rejuvenated to tackle their afternoon's work.

Half of the executives say they eat lunch in the company lunch room.

1988 will be remembered as a big year for the food industry. The big companies managed to get bigger through mergers; competition heated up among supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets and "hypermarkets" - the giant one-store-does-it-all supermarkets.

Everyone was getting into food-to-go. Consumers became increasingly concerned about what's in the food they eat - and manufacturers responded by making healthier products - or at least putting on healthier-sounding labels.

Here's a look at some of the food trends:

HITS AND MISSES IN 1988

The Lempert Company, an advertising firm specializing in the food industry, does an annual round-up of what it sees as the best and worst food ideas for the year. Here's the list of Lempert's Hits and Misses for 1988. You may or may not agree:

THE HITS:

1. Old Fashioned Quaker Oats. A product with packaging so distinctive you can find it blindfolded in any food store. The folks at Quaker Oats didn't invent the cholesterol/oat bran connection, but they were smart enough to capitalize on it. And this product is 100 percent natural rolled oats.

2. Arm & Hammer Dental Care Toothpaste. A product that does exactly what it says it will; not only does it freshen your breath and whiten your teeth better than most toothpastes on the market, it does so without all the added chemicals.

3. MicroReady Indicator. This little gadget, incorporated into Armour microwave dinners, solves one of the microwave's biggest problems: the lack of cooking time uniformity. The capsule attached to the dinner tray turns blue when the meal reaches the proper temperature. Competitors are probably green with envy.

4. Flavored seltzers. Americans love bubbles but they don't want to look like one, which can happen if they drink too many sugar-laden sodas. A prediction: seltzers without added sweeteners will replace Coke and Pepsi as the top beverages by 1992.

5. My Own Meals. A five-item line of microwaveable dinners for children has the right idea: offering a product specifically geared to the youngest microwave users.

6. Spago's Original California Pizza. Frozen pizza was never like this before. The classic has been updated with all-natural ingredients, interesting seasonings and great taste.

7. Smartfood Popcorn. Great packaging, which informs and amuses. Great product, a tasty cheese popcorn made with aged cheddar cheese. No more of those telltale orange stains on your fingers.

8. Prepared foods-to-go. Not your basic macaroni and cheese at the deli counter, but meals such as stuffed flounder or curried chicken that can be picked up at the supermarket on the way home and microwaved in a few minutes.

9. Single-serving frozen vegetables. These single, microwaveable portions minimize waste and allow for lots of mixing and matching.

10. Olive oil. This product is successfully trading on Americans' interest in lowering their cholesterol levels and is now the fastest-growing segment of the cooking oil industry.

THE MISSES

1. MicroMagic Milkshakes. There is only one question about this product: why? While putting a frozen milkshake into the microwave and having it come out cold has some novelty, who really cares?

2. Slice. This juice-added soft drink made the 1985 hits list. It appealed specifically to consumers looking for a "healthier" alternative to regular soft drinks and paved the way for no less than 10 imitators. Then Pepsi blew it by adding a cherry cola variety; and consumers took a good look at Slice and discovered the main ingredient of juice being used did not match the flavor up front. Grape or apple juice may be cheaper than other juices, but Slice has paid for the mistake.

3. Seven-Up Gold. There's nothing wrong with the taste of the spiced soft drink, but the concept seems to have backfired. If it doesn't want to be compared to a cola, why the look of a cola? This journey into beverage limbo isn't getting them anywhere.

4. Fruity Yummy Mummy with Monster Mallows. Yet another presweetened cereal, with a ghoulish concept to boot. Artificial fruit flavor, frosted cereal, vanilla flavored marshmallows - yet the company has the nerve to say it's part of a nutritious breakfast because it has eight essential vitamins and iron.

5. Refrigerated pasta. Yuppie fever gone wild. The fresh pasta is far more expensive than the plain, old boxed variety; the difference in cooking time is insignificant.

6. Michelob Dry Beer. Dry beer is not the hot new trend it is cracked up to be. This seems like a last-ditch effort to save the brand.

7. Oreo Cookies 'n Cream Fudge-Covered Snackwiches. Stop this madness of line extensions ad naseum. True, Oreos are popular cookies, but that thick white cream in the middle is a lot less appealing when you think of it as lard-based.

8. Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran. Looking to exploit America's newfound love affair with oat bran, Kellogg's is eager to tell its story. What it didn't tell us is that the product when first introduced also contained coconut oil, which has twice as much saturated fat as lard. They did change their formula when consumers complained - but why wait to be caught?

9. Flavored microwave popcorn. Just as this snack was elevated to a healthy food by the American Cancer Society and the American Dental Association and others, it became a trendy food. So manufacturers added all the stuff like salt, sweeteners and artificial flavors back in. Then they made it inconvenient by providing different seasoning packages to mix in.

10. Frozen microwave entrees. The original ardor has been quenched by poor taste, uninspired additions and inflated prices.

DO'S AND DONT'S FOR 1989

From the Lempert Company, some advice on avoiding the misses of 1989:

1. Don't fall for any fruit juice-added product that advertises less that 1/3 juice -- no matter how healthy they claim it is.

2. Don't be lured into buying foods just because they say "microwaveable" in big, bold letters.

3. Do make a serious attempt to understand what the nutritional information that comes with items really means.

4. Don't be fooled by products that are made by American companies but have funny foreign names to make them sound gourmet.

5. Don't put up with fast food chains making only token efforts to improve the healthiness of their foods.

6. Don't buy foods based solely on seductive advertising using partying dogs, dancing raisins or other assorted characters. Look for advertising that tells something about the product.

FOOD ON THE GO

More than 85 million people, totaling 47 percent of the nation's adult population, ate out or purchased food to go from restaurants on a typical day last year, according to a survey conducted by Gallup for the National Restaurant Associations.

According to the survey, approximately one in three (32 percent) of all adults ate on-premise at a food service establishment on a typical day, while nearly one in five (10 percent) purchased food to go or for delivery. Three percent of the nation's adult population did both.

Dinner was the most popular meal among consumers eating food prepared away from home (with 23 percent adults patronizing restaurants). Lunch was a close second wiht 22 percnet; breakfast was the choice for only five percent.

Dinner was also the overwhelming meal of choice for those who ordered take-out or delivered food (51 percent); 39 percent ordered lunch-to-go, with eight percent ordering breakfast.

AIRLINE MEALS GET HIGH MARKS

Frequent fliers say airline meals have improved but in-flight service has deteriorated since airlines were deregulated nine years ago, according to a Cornell University survey.

Infrequent fliers are pleased with both food and service.

Considering actions taken to operate more economically and the shorter flights scheduled by the airlines since 1987, Cornell researchers were surprised that 600 passengers interviewed at six major air terminals generally saw improvements in food offered by five major airlines.

"Because few airline executives believe that food service is absolutely essential to the flying public, food service is a prime target for budget cuts," says Cornell's Mary H. Tabacchi, one of the authors of the study.

Still, about 150 million meals are served on the nation's airlines each year, and the Air Transport Association reports that U.S. carriers spent $1.3 billion on food in 1985, about 3.2 percent of their operating expense.

But service has been another area of cutbacks. Before deregulation, the average U.S. flight carried one flight attendant for every 25 passengers, but the average now is one for every 40.

Frequent fliers were defined as passengers who make at least 12 round trips a year. Forty percent said airline meals were better since deregulation; 32 percent said worse. When asked if airlines change menus ofter enough to offer variety, 33 percent said yes, 43 percent said no.

On service, 29 percent said it has improved since deregulation, 46 percent said it was worse.

In frequent fliers replied:

On food: better, 56 percent; worse, 19 percent.

Menu variety: improved, 49 percent; worse, 22 percent

Service: improved, 49 percent; worse 22 percent.

However, when asked if quality of food service played an important role in selecting an airline, 52 percent of all passengers said no; 30 percent said yes.