257 million people visit food outlets between midnight and 7am each year, according to figures released by The NDP Group.
The number accounts for 83% of growth in the foodservice market.
The 257m people are a small proportion of Britain’s out-of-home (OOH) foodservice industry, which registered more than 11.3 billion visits for year ending May 2018.
In a market facing pressures from all sides, the growing demand for overnight and early morning food and beverages consumed away from home is an important new source of growth.
The overall OOH foodservice industry grew by 43 million additional visits in the two years ending May 2018 with the overnight portion making up 83% of this growth.
The new trend reflects the ability of Britain’s foodservice operators to make their assets work hard 24 hours a day and is partly supported by rapid growth in delivery.
London leads the way and has provided much of the overnight momentum, now accounting for 26% of night-time traffic nationwide with over 67 million visits annually. The capital’s overnight foodservice market grew 38% in visits in the two years ending May 2018.
Large cities, especially in the north of England and in Scotland including Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh have built on night-time business with 20% average visit growth over the past two years.
However, cities in Wales, the Midlands and the east of England including Cardiff, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Oxford have been less successful between midnight and 7am, having seen visits dip by an average of 6%.
Dominic Allport, insights director with The NPD Group, said: “London is leading the overnight and early morning trend. The two-years of growth we have identified includes the period since the August 2016 start of London’s Night Tube operations, and the months since the announcement in July 2017 of Sadiq Khan’s 24-hour vision for London.”
Britain’s quick-service restaurant (QSR) outlets have been particularly successful in the new market.
On a 24-hour basis, QSR brand visits grew by just under 3% over the two years ending May 2018, but in the overnight market, they have grown visits by nearly 27% over the same period.
The overnight OOH market is now worth close to £1.2bn, having broken the billion-pound consumer spend barrier in the 12 months to May 2018.
The NPD Group says this fast-developing market segment could expand from the current level of 257m visits annually to some 300m visits by the end of 2020, to create a market potentially worth £1.5bn.