How you can grow your business with food to go over the next three years

On-the-go products will experience a huge growth in the next three years. Nikki Allen finds out how to take advantage of this trend.

On-the-go products will experience a huge growth in the next three years. Nikki Allen finds out how to take advantage of this trend.

The rise of food to go

In February, MCA Insight revealed its latest food-to-go report – and it’s good news for convenience retailers. Convenience store on-the-go ranges and bakeries will have the most growth in the sector in the next few years.

“The food-to-go sector is expected to be worth £23.5bn by 2022, up from £17.4bn in 2017,” says Amy Fisher, Dairy Crest shopper marketing controller. “Convenience and forecourt retailers are set to grow sales by 6.1% by 2022, too.”

Busy shoppers are responsible for this trend. Mike Benton, head of snacking at Symington’s, which owns Mug Shot and Naked Noodle, says shoppers are more likely to eat at work or on the move, as they are pressured for time. 

These opportunities aren’t just at lunchtime. Gavin Loftus, head of brand at Weetabix Drinks, explains: “The need for convenience at breakfast is more apparent, with 24% of consumers buying it on the go once a week.” 

But the numbers show symbol and independent retailers are lagging behind, while convenience multiples grow food-to-go sales faster.

It’s time to catch up, says Cath McIlwham, Spar head of brand. “Eighty per cent of shoppers would like to see more choice of food-to-go products in convenience stores, and competitors are rapidly improving their ranges,” she explains. With attractive, Instagram-worthy meals on the rise, a few sandwiches in the chiller will struggle to make the cut. 

That means retailers need to evolve their food-to-go offer to bring better value and choice to  their shoppers – and offer them something that they can not find anywhere else.

Know your customers

When it comes to creating your fixture, remember there is no one-size fits-all solution.

“Some customers might want an early breakfast, while office workers may pop in for lunch, and others for a quick post-work snack,” says Isadora Toner, brand activation manager at yoghurt snack brand Nomadic. 

Knowing your customer is the best place to start – and one big thing shoppers have in common today is the desire for a hot lunch. 

Seventy-five per cent of food-to-go shoppers buy hot food at lunchtime, says Angela Daulby, group sales director at Kepak Convenience Foods. “Convenience stores offering hot food to go also boost basket spend, with the average spend of a hot food shopper 10% more than other food-to-go shoppers,” she explains.

An easy way to begin offering hot food is to create an area with a microwave, hot drinks machine and hot water point. 

“If retailers have a coffee machine or hot water point, they can offer shoppers a complete takeaway meal with lines like pot snacks,” says Steve Kelly, channel director for convenience and wholesale at Premier Foods. “This is an ideal way to keep up with consumer trends and increase sales.”

“Rustlers offers retailers microwaves and food-to-go units, both proven to boost sales without concerns over waste and additional labour costs associated with food-to-go counters,” adds Daulby. 

These units should be located next to chillers at the front of store or with other food-to-go options, she suggests, and use PoS telling shoppers they can heat up their food in store. 

Offer value for money

While food-to-go shoppers might be looking for a quick meal, that doesn’t mean they’re willing to compromise on price. 

“Even consumers in a rush value a good deal and appreciate suggestions and promotions, so cross-marketing deals work well in food to go,” says Alan Bird, commercial director at Wessanen, owner of Whole Earth, Kallo and Mrs Crimble’s.

You should make sure you are thinking about your fixture as a whole and ensure that it communicates value and quality. Dairy Crest’s Amy Fisher says: “Retailers must work hard to showcase the value of food to go to their shoppers and cross-promotions are the way to do this.” 

Fisher adds that meal bundles catering to food-to-go missions, such as breakfast, lunch or snacking, can speed up decision making and grow basket spend. 

To keep shoppers interested, retailers should rotate these offers every few weeks, says Bird. Encourage your shoppers to try out new products with offers and sampling.

It’s important to remember not all shoppers want a sandwich, drink and a chocolate bar at lunch – for some consumers that feels unsatisfying, says Nomadic’s Isadora Toner. 

Although meal deals are a common promotion, more shoppers choose not to be restricted to by them, which is why offering choice is so important

“By offering a wider range of products on the go, retailers can get shoppers interested – and ultimately, drive more profit,” she says. 

Boost food to go spend

To encourage your shoppers to trade up, you need to make sure your products are fresh, quality and contain on-trend ingredients. You also need to think about how your display is marketing your products.

 “An attractive display near the front of your store is the perfect way to attract those in need of a quick food fix – then a wide range of products within the display and effective promotions will increase sales,” says Wessanen’s Alan Bird. 

Retailers can also drive profits by encouraging shoppers to buy from other categories, like soft drinks and mints and gums, alongside their meals. 

“Consumers are often looking to complement their food with a beverage,” says Adrian Troy, marketing director at Barr Soft Drinks. Stock a range of chilled soft drinks in resealable packs to best drive sales, he says.

“The food-to-go trend provides a fantastic opportunity to encourage gum as an additional purchase,” says Kathy McAllister, refresh portfolio director at Mars Wrigley confectionery. “Cross-category merchandising can focus on different occasions through the day, such as a sandwich and a pack of chewing gum for £2.”

Finally, urges Premier Foods’ Kelly, make the most of today’s biggest free marketing tool. 

“Use social media to promote products and deals in your store – currently 22% of stores have Facebook and 18% use Twitter, whereas both platforms are used daily among consumers,” she says.

Retailer View – Peter Patel, Spar, Brockley, London

“We started making £1,500 per week from our food-to-go offer almost as soon as we opened it, and it’s still growing. 

“We have an outlet called Stone Willy’s Kitchen in our store, which is where we offer sandwiches, baguettes and wraps made to order. Our food-to-go section is open from 6.30am to cater for all our customers who are going into to London in the morning. 

“We also stock iced smoothies, chips, chicken goujons pastries and have a bakery section, as well as a Costa Coffee Express. We brought this in after spending time getting to know the customers in our local area and finding out what they wanted. 

“To promote our offer, we are vocal on the community’s Brockley Blog about what is happening in store. We display posters in the shop window and use social media to promote, too.”

Food to go is set to experience a huge growth in the next three years.


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