Food for thought: The Evolution of food-to-go

Food for thought: The Evolution of food-to-go

Summer heatwaves are the hardest time of year to be an office worker in London. After six months of rain and snow, we welcome Mediterranean temperatures with open arms, only to be confronted by the reality of buckling train tracks, airless undergrounds and trying to stay sane until we can finally switch on out of office notifications.

For food-to-go specialists, the premise of a heatwave is rife with opportunities to entice us out of the sweltering heat of our offices: we’re far enough into 2019 to have abandoned the promises we made at the beginning of the year to save money by ‘meal prepping’ and the Central line does such a good job of fusing together our homemade wraps, so trading up to more exciting offers doesn’t require a second thought.

Indeed, just as temperatures are rising, recent developments within the food-to-go illustrate how this sector is starting to heat up. The food-to-go market as a whole has risen to be worth £25bn over the past year, according to Kantar Worldpanel data [52 w/e 9 September 2018], and the multiples make up 20% of lunch-to-go trips.

The supermarket response to this has seen Waitrose implement Sushi Daily counters in 85 stores, while Asda launched its first of these last year. Sainsbury’s has rapidly rolled out its sushi offering, M&S has a partnership with Wasabi and Tesco is piloting Yo Sushi counters.

Sushi lends itself well to consumption on the go and its popularity is evidence of how consumers’ globalised tastes mean tuna mayonnaise sandwiches just aren’t enough to cut it any more. However, sandwich and coffee offers are still the main drivers of profit within the sector. According to Paul Maxell, UK marketing manager for Aryzta Food Solutions: “Some 59% of food-to-go shoppers cite hot drinks as the main reason for convenience store visits.” A Harris Interactive survery of 1,347 respondents who buy lunch to go during the week revealed that 55% chose sandwiches (in response to the question of ‘what type of lunch to go product do you prefer to buy?’).

Despite this, Monisha Singh, shopper marketing manager for Kepak Consumer Foods, which owns the Rustlers brand, maintains that “sandwiches are declining in popularity”. The results of the Harris survey show that 27% of respondents preferred hot food. This year has seen operators experimenting in this arena by launching exciting new products such as vegan sausage rolls by Greggs, which debuted to consumer frenzy, and London’s Abokado developing ‘Pacific-inspired’ dishes including red thai salmon curry bowls and vegan sweet chilli gyoza.

The food-to-go sector lends itself well to innovation as, unlike casual or finer dining, there are no ‘rules’. However, operators must continue to rapidly adapt to trends such as changing dietary needs and consumers’ increasing appetites for Asian flavours.

Singh adds that “the food-to-go category is set to grow by a further 3% in 2019”. Meanwhile, office workers in London will be hoping current temperatures decrease by 3%, otherwise, its a wrap…