Food-to-go market increasing three times faster than on-site spend

Britons are increasingly eating pre-prepared food and drink on-the-go – and it remains one of the fastest-growing areas of Britain’s out-of-home (OOH) foodservice industry.

Latest figures from global information company The NPD Group show that ‘food-to-go’ consumption (off-premise but excluding delivery and drive thru’) is growing while on-premise is shrinking.

For the year ending (YE) July 2018, there were 4.4 billion on-premise visits, a drop of 3.5%, versus 5.1 billion food-to-go visits, an increase of 2%.

Over three years, meanwhile, ‘food-to-go’ visits have increased 4%. For foodservice operators, there’s money to be made from ‘food to go’ as the market has increased by £2.5 billion since mid-2015, three times as fast as on-premise spend.

Consuming food and beverages on the premises where the purchase is made only represents 42% of the 11.3 billion OOH annual foodservice visits in Britain. Food-to-go represents around 48%, while delivery covers an extra 6% and drive thru’ accounts for 4%. This means well over half (an off-premise total of 58%) of Britain’s foodservice industry visits involve consumers carrying food and drink away from the point of purchase or getting other people to carry food and drink to them.

Eating food-on-the-go suits a busy consumer lifestyle but there’s also a financial appeal for consumers and operators. It’s a winner for consumers because much on-the-go eating and drinking comes with attractive meal deals that save money, so people can justify multiple ‘food-to-go’ purchases.

It’s a winner for operators because ‘food-to-go’ prices are usually lower than sit-down consumption (food-to-go represents 48% of total visits, but only 29% of spend). That 19 percentage-point gap gives an operator ample scope for increasing the average bill.

Dominic Allport, insights director with The NPD Group, said: “Breakfast, lunch, dinner – or just a snack. When you buy food or drink away from home, you have two main choices – eat it in the premises in which you made the purchase or eat it ‘on the go’. The lion’s share is ‘food-to-go’ and reflects how consumers are trying to save time and money. For many of us, working life means rushing to our workplace and then rushing around again during meal breaks. Food-to-go is an integral part of our lifestyle and underlines how much we are keeping an eye on the clock, and on our wallets.”

Around 20% of visits result in food and beverages consumed back in the workplace, or at school/college. But 8% of visits see food or drink making it no further than the car – that’s the same as each Briton eating or drinking in their car 14 times a year. Some 7% eat or drink while walking along the street or sitting in a public space such as a park.

More than 292 million foodservice visits result in food being consumed on public transport. This could be the next big trend: it’s a small total right now (3%) but consumption of food and drink on public transport is growing five times faster than the overall ‘food-to-go’ trend.

Looking at dayparts, ‘food-to-go’ is eating into breakfast (50% of all visits), lunch (48% of visits), and snacking (59% of visits). Dinner is not immune to the voracious appetite of eating ‘food-to-go’ either, with 37% of all dinner visits comprising food consumed on the move.

Mr Allport added: “A generation ago, food-to-go might stretch little further than a sausage roll, a bag of chips, a cheeseburger, a sandwich or a cream bun. Today’s offerings inject innovation, portability and ease-of-consumption across a huge range of international hot and cold cuisines to create exciting meals, snacks and beverages for any time of day. There’s no doubt that foodservice operators are grasping the ‘food-to-go’ opportunity by offering increasingly appetizing and healthy options.”

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