Food to go is a growing category for independent retailers, with the market set to be worth £23.5bn by 2022. Tamara Birch finds out what the big opportunities are for stocking food to go in summer
Shoppers’ needs are constantly changing, so it’s more important than ever for retailers to keep up to date with trends like food to go to increase customer spend.
The sector has grown significantly, with 4.3% growth since 2018, and now accounts for almost a quarter of the overall turnover for the total eating-out market.
With the rise in the food-to-go category, more independent retailers are expanding their range and starting to offer hot drinks and food, as well as sandwiches and bakery items with the aim of driving sales, attracting new customers and giving their existing shoppers something extra.
Get ready for summer
As summer approaches, customer missions change as they increasingly look for products that are easy to consume and buy last-minute before gatherings. From a retailer perspective, the opportunity for a boost in spend is increased, with customers going out more in warmer weather. Shoppers will look for chilled drinks to keep them cool. Matt Gouldsmith, wholesale channel director at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, says: “Consumers are looking for their favourite soft drinks brands on the go. In 2018, soft drinks sales in independent convenience stores were up to 84% higher in July than in January. This suggests a substantial additional food-to-go sales opportunity for independent retailers throughout the warmer months.”
Retailers should stock soft drinks so customers can easily access these products, like Ribena Frusion, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Lucozade, and present an eye-catching display through promotional offers and a wide range of products.
Trudy Davies, from Woosnam & Davies in Llanidloes, Powys, produces a range of sandwiches, baguettes and jacket potatoes fresh in store for her customers. She’s found the weather from day to day can play a big part in what’s popular.
“Summer is a good time for the takeaway as we are located in rural mid-Wales and have a lot of custom from cyclists, runners and outdoorsy types,” she explains.
“We also have a few caravan and camping sites, so, for us, it depends entirely on the weather. If it’s raining, people eat for comfort, and if it’s hot, they’ll walk around and get products for a picnic or packed lunch. I sell a lot of cakes, bread, pies and sandwiches when it’s hot outside because they’re quick and easy,” she continues.
When the weather is at its warmest, a strong selection of chilled and frozen products will be popular with customers. A freezer well stocked with ice cream is, of course, an important starting point, alongside a selection of cold drinks. Many retailers are also finding that slush machines are a great way to attract footfall to their stores.
Mike Rowe, owner of Rowes Newsmarket in Wantage, Oxfordshire, says: “Our slushes are very popular. They sell well throughout the year, but they do particularly well during the summer months, especially as there are a lot of children who come into our store.”
Food on the go is an increasingly prominent feature in everyday food consumption because of busier lifestyles and expanding choices in what customers can purchase. Coffee machines are on the rise, with a 12% increase of them appearing in convenience stores, and are quickly becoming a top priority for customers on the go. Although summer might not seem the best time for hot drinks, Rowe is looking at ways to get the most out of his coffee machine in the warmer months.
“We have a Costa Coffee machine, which went from doing nothing to selling really well. This summer will be the first time trying chilled coffee products,” he says.
Five top tips for stocking food to go in the summer
1. Change or offer alternative products during different seasons, such as expanding your ice cream range in the summer
2. Place your food to go fixtures near the till or the entrance so it is easily accessible for customers
3. Offer a variety of cross-promotions to boost sales
4. Use creative signs to alert customers of your range
5. Use social media to advertise your food-to-go range and tell customers about the items you stock
As the seasons change from summer to winter, retailers should review their products. In winter months, the focus should be on hot food to go items, like sausage rolls, as customers tend to purchase comfort foods to cope with the cold weather.
However, in warmer weather, retailers should turn their attention to promoting their chilled food. Laura Sayer, head of direct to store at Costcutter Supermarkets Group, says: “As we shift emphasis away from hot food to go in the winter, shoppers move their thoughts to alfresco dining as they will be looking for fresh items which require minimum preparation effort.”
Retailer Shakir Shakoor, who has been serving food to go from his Weaver Row Newsagent in Stirling since 2013, has found summer hasn’t had a huge impact on his hot food sales. “We’re quite a small shop, so what we can sell is quite limited – we sell sandwiches and soft drinks,” he says.
“Chocolate sales tend to drop in the summer as they melt quite quickly. Our hot food is served through a window, so our customers will get their hot food to go and then come into the shop where we have a slush machine – which is very popular – and soft drinks are a top seller, too.”
Thinking outside the box in the food-to-go category and trying out new things is important for increasing sales. Rowe believes that it always pays off to try new things, to see what works and what doesn’t. “We’re looking at a few things at the moment, such as ice cream and frozen yoghurt ideas, but we are still exploring this. We’ll also be trying to make our own sandwiches and baguettes in our new kitchen area,” he says.
Ice cream and chilled products are typically impulse buys, especially during sudden heatwaves, so retailers should stock these near the entrance, or by other food-to-go products, to increase basket spend.
Adam Hogwood, of Budgens of Broadstairs in Kent, says: “Typically people have made their decision by the time they’ve arrived, so it’s down to us to push incremental sales. We do this by grouping products together and doing the customers’ thinking for them.”