But where will this growth come from and what will consumers be buying? According to him! research, soft drinks and crisps/snacks are the food-to-go items most shoppers expect to see in a forecourt c-store. These categories are followed by sandwiches, confectionery, pastries and hot food.
Bakery supplier Lantmannen Unibake says savoury pastry consumers divide into different groups, including Fuel On-the-Go and Discreet On-the-Go.
Samantha Winsor, assistant brand manager at the company, says its research shows that the savouries consumer demands convenience at the fixture. "They are looking for quick on-the-go products that allow them to multitask. While convenience is king, freshly baked and filling products with fairly strong flavours work well in satisfying demand." For these consumers she recommends Lantmännen Unibake's take on a classic pizza, the Tomato & Cheese Swirly which comprises a real tomato filling in a soft bread swirl, topped with Gouda cheese and basil.
She says Discreet On-the-Go consumers are looking for something smaller to get them through to their next meal. "This means that freshly baked, crisp bakery products with a low aftertaste are must-stock items for this need state," says Winsor, who recommends the Schulstad Bakery Solutions Cheese Twist for this.
Meanwhile, Aryzta Food Solutions is urging forecourt retailers to maximise the food-to-go opportunity in store with a good range of products, NPD and eye-catching pos to meet the needs of shoppers eating on the move.
Vincent Brook, UK retail commercial manager at the company, says that as shoppers increasingly look to forecourts for a bite to eat while they're fuelling up, it's become more important than ever to tailor your range accordingly in order to drive sales and meet shopper needs.
He says Aryzta is enabling forecourts to make the most of the lunchtime food-to-go opportunity in-store, having recently unveiled significant investment in its Pierre's brand specifically for the convenience channel, with major innovation across products, packaging and in-store bakery equipment, complemented by dedicated in-store pos.
"The aim of the new-look Pierre's offering is to enable retailers to compete head-on with quick-service restaurants and high street food outlets," says Brook.
"Understanding shopper needs is a vital factor when you're looking to grow sales within this space, and with 23% of shoppers citing food-to-go as their reason for visiting a forecourt shop, it's important to offer a good range of hot food that will entice people to the hot counter."
The Pierre's serve-assist range offers popular on-trend products, including Pulled Pork and Sweet Potato Fries, as well as a contemporary twist on established favourites including a Chicken & Chorizo Lattice, enabling forecourt retailers to make food-to-go a focal point in-store.
Retailers can also order more traditional lunchtime options including BBQ Chicken Wings, Chicken Fillet Goujons, Southern Fried Chicken Poppets and Potato Wedges, as well as meal deal boxes.
In addition, the Pierre's offering provides stockists with an extensive range of ingredients to offer their shoppers signature sandwiches.
"Pierre's products are baked fresh in-store, and shoppers cite the smell of fresh food as a key driver to repeat purchase. They're also reassured by the quality and choice offered by the range," Brook continues.
"As well as having the right range, it's important to choose the right solution for your store in order to get the most out of on-the-go sales. We offer a range of economical ovens to suit all store sizes, meaning forecourt retailers can bake as little or often as they wish."
Aryzta Food Solutions also provides a range of display units, including counter- top units for entry-level stockists, and comprehensive in-store training is provided along with a range of eye-catching point-of-sale material.
When it comes to chilled pastries, Addo Food Group says its Pork Farms brand is a traditional one which appeals to a more conventional 'traditionalist' while its Wall's Pastry range appeals more to Addo's core audience, the family unit. However, Addo Food Group brand marketing manager, Michael Holton adds: "Wall's Pastry is also a brand that stretches in appealing to drivers, through our jumbo sausage rolls and even our Breakfast Twists for those on the move at breakfast, and we are continuing to see a really strong market for Wall's Pastry products within the forecourt sector."
Holton says the company's insight has revealed that 41% of 'eat now' occasions are snacking, with a frequency of over three times a week. "We've also identified that 59% of shoppers are having breakfast out of home, thus buying it to eat on the move; and when it comes to lunchtime food, a huge 70% of 18-40-year olds look for meal deals."
Stephen Clifford, head of marketing at Country Choice, says that when it comes to promoting food-to-go, by far and away the most successful mechanic is the meal deal. "The actual discount does not need to be great as this is all about making it easier for the consumer through effective merchandising and strong pos," he explains.
"Putting a small premium on the food item will allow headroom for the discount in the meal deal.
"In the morning, a well-stocked breakfast fixture beside the coffee machine, preferably promoting a link deal, is an absolute must. At breakfast time drinks are bought in nearly all cases, split evenly between hot beverages and cold drinks. Within hot beverages, two-thirds are coffee, a quarter tea and the balance hot chocolate. Sales of these products need to be linked to popular food items like breakfast baps, savouries such as bacon & cheese turnovers and sausage rolls, and continental pastries, with the latter often being overlooked these days."
Clifford says that although breakfast starts very early (6am for many stores) and continues into mid-morning the lunchtime trade now starts at around 11am and retailers must be sure that their offer reflects this. "Here, the meal deal is likely to comprise a soft drink, sandwich or salad and either crisps or fruit, occasionally even a sweet treat like a cake bar. It is also worth noting that about 40% of sandwiches are bought outside of the traditional lunch period of 12-2pm so mid-morning to mid-afternoon availability is key to maximising sales, as is merchandising. Positioning sandwiches and drinks side-by-side in the chiller, with a talker carrying a message along the lines of 'I'm in the meal deal' works really well.
"Moving into the afternoon, the deal can be tweaked again to team a sweet treat normally a pre-wrapped product with a reasonably long shelf life, with a coffee or tea."
While many forecourt stores do well with sausage rolls and sandwiches, others have been busy embracing the latest trends. For example, Euro Garages' new link up with Sainsbury's Local means it now offers consumers an amazing range of healthier foods such as fruit pots, spinach & egg pots and sushi.
However, even if you don't have links to Sainsbury's, there are plenty of suppliers offering better-for-you products. Take 9Bar, which offers the benefits of super seeds full of magnesium, natural protein and fibre to keep consumers feeling alert and fuller for longer. Gary Coggin, channel controller for 9Bar at 9Brand Foods, says: "Traditionally, food on the go has been about less healthy food such as crisps and chocolate but brands like 9Bar are totally changing this, meaning that your health doesn't have to be compromised just because you are hungry and on the go. More and more consumers are recognising the importance of both macro and micro ingredients so, while people often do want a sweet or salty snack, sugar and carbs alone won't cut it. Consumers want to get more nutrition out of their snacks wherever possible. The unique mix of seeds in 9Bars helps with that fuller for longer feeling so the temptation to snack on less healthier options is minimised."
He says the Chia & Berry 9Bar satisfies the chia seed trend, while Raspberry Cocoa Kick offers a more indulgent bar that still delivers on super seeds.
While prawn & mayo and BLT may still be very popular sandwich choices, more and more people are cutting back on their meat consumption and will be looking for meat-free options. Urban Eat has the answer with its new vegan and vegetarian range called Roots.
Isla Owen, senior marketing manager at Adelie Foods, says: "Although most food-to-go outlets offer some vegan or vegetarian options, cold food to go has failed to keep up with this trend. Now thanks to Roots, we're putting sandwiches and wraps firmly back on the menu for vegetarians and vegans.
"Vegan and vegetarian diets are becoming more common than ever approximately 12% of the UK population follow a vegetarian or vegan diet (Vegetarian Society) and a high proportion of these are students in the 16-24 age range, 71% of whom buy food on the move at least once a week."
Approved by the Vegetarian Society, the Roots range contains nine sandwiches and wraps from The Beet Goats On a goats cheese and beetroot sandwich on farmers bread to the Beany McBeanface wrap, which is spicy bean, pepper and guacamole in a tomato wrap. We don't want to offer vegetarians and vegans the same dull cheese and egg sandwiches that most food-to-go providers manufacture. Instead we've taken inspiration from flavours all over the world to create some really fresh, exciting products that give a real taste explosion," says Owen.
Sticking with sandwiches, and Maxol is adding a new signature range to its Moreish sandwich line up which will include a greater focus on healthier foods, gluten-free options as well as pre-packed sandwiches. Aoife Kearney, food concepts manager at Maxol, says the gluten-free trend will influence the company's approach for the year ahead, and includes a gluten-free sandwich range as part of the new Moreish pre-pack selection.
Subway, of course, has made its name worldwide by offering sandwiches. During recent years, it has experienced exponential growth in non-traditional locations, such as forecourts, and recently opened its 750th store in a non-traditional location at an East of England Co-op site in Norwich.
Peter Dowding, country director for Subway UK and Ireland, expects further growth this year and beyond. He says there are still opportunities available for forecourt operators to partner with the franchise and open an outlet within an existing store. The Subway brand has been working in partnership with leading petrol forecourt operators for a number of years, including Euro Garages, Jet, Rontec, Petrogas Group (Applegreen), as well as independent operators.
Partnering with the brand provides several benefits for retailers, including excellent dual branding opportunities, high rental returns and increased customer market share.
Nick Baker owns and operates five Jet forecourts across the North of England. In June 2013, he opened his first Subway store in Doncaster and has been delighted with the results. He now has three Subways on his forecourts and is currently planning to open a fourth.
Nick says: "I'm delighted with the results the Subway stores are producing at three of my forecourts. The Subway brand is widely recognised and is another reason for customers to visit. Since opening the Subway stores I have seen increased footfall as well as increased shop and fuel sales."
Going it alone
Joe Brough of Costcutter Oakwood Gate, has built a successful food-to-go business without a big fast-food name above the door. "We have a Subway franchise but could not operate one at Oakwood Gate as there was already a branch less than a mile away," he explains. A £1m investment in 2015 gave Joe the chance to offer customers a wider choice of meal solutions as well as an increased range of hot food.
"Our hot food-to-go offering now takes up 300sq ft of the store and has an in-store seating area for customers. We are able to offer breakfast, pastries, freshly made hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups and jacket potatoes with a range of fresh fillings, to local customers and workers from the many local businesses and industrial units nearby.
"We support our bakery offering with a Costa Express machine so our customers are able to have a hot beverage as well as the usual packaged sandwiches, which are included in our popular meal deal."
Staff are well briefed on weekly offers, including the meal deal option, so they are confident about communicating these to shoppers. Says Joe: "We utilise pos posters on the forecourt to draw new customers in and showcase our weekly deals and competitive prices.
"The tills in the café have digital offers displayed and this has been a really successful way to increase spend on food-to-go items. Alongside this, we've introduced a 'collect card' for regulars, which rewards them and this has proved very successful."
Joe says it's clear in today's brand-driven market that customers expect high standards. "We're in a period of great opportunity, but also great pressure to deliver these targets to our customers. As a result, I believe we have shown that a viable offer can be made to shoppers without having to use a powerful brand name such as Subway or Greggs, but it is hard work and needs to be offered on a site-specific basis to suit the customer base. I feel Oakwood Gate fully understands the needs of our shoppers and we are now able to offer them a vast range of hot and cold food to go."
David Wyatt, Costcutter Shell Snow Hill:
"I'm really pleased with the Rollover concept I launched in my three stores in November 2015. In Shell Snow Hill, we have a Rollover vending unit and we're offering different meal deals. We're currently selling more than 30 hot dogs a day, generating £400 turnover per week and it is a great footfall driver. Customer feedback has been fantastic.
"I'm really pleased with the sales in my two other stores too. Both offer the Rollover Breakfast Sausage, which is very popular in the mornings. Rollover offers great point of sale and the team is really supportive. I definitely recommend you add it to your food-to-go offer."