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REVEALED: What the food-to-go market will look like by the end of the year

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The UK food-to-go market suffered a 46% decline in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic severely restricted travel and movement, but is predicted to bounce back rapidly once the market reopens.

That’s according to Lumina Intelligence UK Food To Go Market Report 2021, which reckons the market will reach £15.3 billion by the end of the year, putting it at 72% of its value prior to the pandemic.

Wider recovery and growth will see the channel reaching a value of £22.6 billion in 2024, Lumina predicts.

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Less restriction exposed and low-ticket channels are best placed for recovery with convenience store grab-and-go, supermarket grab-and-go, sandwich & bakery and travel all expected to recover more swiftly, to over 74% of their pre-pandemic value in 2021.

The report identifies that some of the shorter-term challenges for the sector will evolve into longer term opportunities, spearheaded by shifts in the way that consumers interact with food-to-go.

Outdoor socialising

In the next few months as social restrictions ease, food-to-go is well-placed to capitalise on the outdoor socialising occasion. 21% of consumers say they are likely to purchase food to-go and eat it in a park in the future and this figure rises to 38% for 18-24-year-olds.

Operators including Pizza Pilgrims, German Doner Kebab and Megan’s Restaurants have already begun to develop propositions that offer portable and high-quality picnic-style meal solutions.

Hybrid working patterns

34% of consumers are planning to work from home in the future, with over half of this proportion bullish in their preference for a high proportion of their workdays to be spent at home.

Food to ‘go home’ is a particular focus, with operators including Costa, Pret A Manger and Marks & Spencer already targeting this occasion with new products featuring clear heat-at-home instructions.

The coffee opportunity

Coffee has dominated food to go drinks occasions lately, enjoying a 50% share of total drinks consumed over the last four months.

Reflecting the increase in socialising in outdoor spaces, younger consumers are the most active on coffee walks, with almost one in four having picked up the habit of purchasing a hot drink to go when on a walk with a friend since March 2020.

The Top 10 food to go channels can look forward to a £1.1 billion sales opportunity between 2022 and 2024, with sandwich and bakery and coffee shop/café segments poised to lead in absolute terms, underpinned by physical outlet growth, a core focus on takeaway/to-go and continued consumer aligned new product development.

Convenience store grab-and-go remains the largest food-to-go sub-channel but it’s contribution to growth will fall as it comes under increased pressure to compete with dedicated food to go specialists.

Katherine Prowse, insight manager at Lumina Intelligence, said: “The sudden shift from a highly transient, on-the-go society, to one with restrictions placed on movement had a significant negative impact on the UK food-to-go market in 2020, with much trade diverted to other routes to market such as delivery. However, buoyed by the easing of restrictions and the swift vaccine rollout, we will see a resurgence of the market in 2021, before a full recovery to pre-pandemic sales levels by 2024.”

“Retail-led food to go channels that are less exposed to tight restrictions and offer low-ticket solutions are best placed to recover quicker. However, operators and retailers will be forced to adapt. The continuation of home and hybrid work patterns for many and the rise in outdoor socialising will result in changes to the ways in which consumers will interact with food to go. Portable food-to-go solutions will strike appeal with consumers meeting friends/family in parks, whereas a shift in focus on food to ‘go home’, will provide a relevant solution to those home working.”

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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