If you thought our love of food on the move was waning, think again. According to IGD figures, the UK food-to-go market is set to experience double the growth of the wider food and grocery market (which is growing by 12.5%) and achieve 26% growth from £18.5bn this year to a staggering £23.4bn by 2024.

Rhian Thomas, head of shopper and food-to-go insight at IGD, says: "While there continue to be good opportunities for growth in this area, the gap will continue to grow between those businesses who are actively targeting food-to-go growth and those who simply want a presence in the channel. Opportunities remain, however, for those with clearly defined and relevant strategies."

IGD groups convenience, forecourts and other retailers, such as Spar, Co-op, Tesco Express and Boots into one category and it reckons sales in this category will increase from £2.9bn this year to £3.8bn in 2024. These stores’ market share will increase from 15.5% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2024. Thomas adds: "Convenience and food-to-go are increasingly intertwined, as food-to-go success becomes increasingly critical to the prospects of most convenience stores. Similar principles apply to the forecourt channel, where the added need to encourage dwell time among shoppers will grow in importance as the factors influencing where and how people stop on the road shift.

"Consumer expectations around convenience and forecourt food-to-go are rising fast, creating an opportunity for businesses to invest and upgrade, or else risk getting left behind."

Investing in a food-to-go concept can be pricey which means you need to get it right. Tom Dant, managing director of Gill Marsh Forecourts, which has three sites, believes he’s got it right with Country Choice’s new Stacked solution.

"Like most retailers I am constantly on the look-out for concepts that will create a point of difference in-store," says Tom. "The key is finding ones that appeal to the consumer, are easy for the retailer to operate and have the potential to increase both turnover and margin. Stacked ticks all these boxes."

Gill Marsh Forecourts’ site at Partney, near Skegness, was one of the first to install the Stacked concept as part of a complete refurbishment that took place late last year.

Tom was looking at options for improving the food-to-go offer as part of the refurbishment and he was told about the Stacked concept by his Blakemore’s contact, who had seen it at a Country Choice event.

Off the back of that conversation he visited Country Choice’s Orpington showroom to see the concept for himself. He says there were a number of things about Stacked that instantly appealed to him: "First there was the flexibility of the food offer: it wasn’t just subs or sandwiches but a whole range of other options such as wraps, salads and even pizza. Then there was the sheer breadth of fillings and ingredients available, meaning that customers could customise their choice exactly how they wanted it. Lastly, the products represented really good value to consumers, when compared to other options out there, while still allowing a healthy margin for me, the retailer. That said, the biggest draw for me was the fact that there are no franchise fees or ongoing royalty payments. From talking to other retailers I have subsequently discovered that when it comes to turnover my break-even point is about a third less than that of some of the franchised offers available."

Each Stacked installation is created to suit a store’s available in-store footprint, but the concept is scalable and adaptable, so it can grow with the retailer’s store. The minimum footprint required is just 3m squared, but as with all Country Choice concepts, a full site survey is carried out to see if the site is viable from both a commercial and space perspective. Stacked comes with all the equipment, epos, training and point of sale, plus all the ingredients.

Stacked takes up 15-20% of the floor space at the Partney store but Tom says it earns the space as it complements the rest of the shop offer well. The investment on Gill Marsh Forecourt’s part was around £50,000 but this has paid off as Stacked is making a significant contribution to the store’s profitability. "Since our refit, sales across the whole store are up 13%. As for Stacked, we’re a seasonal store so during the peak summer season, Stack sales were around £2,500-£3,000 a week and margins are extremely healthy at 56-58%. Off-season we’re doing around £2k a week," says Tom. He adds that their best seller overall is the Southern Fried chicken, which he says is delicious but other strong sellers include the breakfast deals.

Easy offers

Not every forecourt retailer has the space or the budget for a separate food-to-go franchise or partnership, however there are still many options open to them.

At the most basic, there’s the sandwich meal deal, providing a sandwich, baguette or wrap with a drink and a snack for a price. These are incredibly popular but shoppers do demand value and variety.

A piece in The Sun earlier this year named Tesco as offering the best value meal deal, with a saving of 55% versus buying the items in the deal individually, while Boots came out top for variety as its deal included sushi, salads and a range of desserts.

From sandwich deals, the next move is typically easy hot food think a warmer containing hot sausage rolls (thaw and bake), a Rollover hot dog machine or microwavable snacks.

"Offering customers a good selection of hot food to go is an effective way for forecourt retailers to boost basket spend and attract new shoppers," says Paul Maxwell, marketing manager at Aryzta Food Solutions UK. He adds that Aryzta offers a broad range of hot food options to help forecourt retailers compete head-on with high street foodservice outlets. The company’s current offering includes everyday favourites such as the chilli steak pasty (283g; 20 units per case) but it has also recognised the surge in demand for vegan/vegetarian products with the launch of its first vegan sausage roll (150g; 55 per case) and a vegan spicy chickpea roll (180g; 48 per case).

"The rise in demand for meat alternatives is gathering pace, with a growing number of consumers actively looking to reduce their meat consumption, for health or environmental reasons, and our vegan/vegetarian products enable retailers to adequately meet this growing market," adds Maxwell. "At the same time, traditional best sellers such as steak or chicken-based pasties remain extremely popular and will act as a beacon, attracting higher spending food-to-go shoppers to the store."

The company also provides a range of hot food-to-go cooking solutions, with customers able to purchase ovens and equipment or use schemes whereby retailers who meet the appropriate level of sales can have equipment on-loan through a partnership agreement.

"This means that in some cases the only cost that the retailer may have to consider is purchasing the stock and investing some staff time to bake off and set up the display. We’re making it as easy and as practical as possible for our retailer partners to maximise the best possible return from hot food to go," adds Maxwell.

Rollover says its hot dog range allows forecourt retailers to cover all meal occasions from breakfast to evening meal. The latest addition to the range is the Chilli and Cheese dog which is proving very popular.

Keith Latham, Rollover’s forecourt key account manager, says: "We partner with many forecourts across the UK providing the full solution to serve hot food to their customers, including free-on-loan equipment. Forecourt customers love Rollover Hot Dogs and Wall’s Breakfast Sausage Baguettes. Retailers sell between 25 and 50 Rollover products a day so it’s a great revenue stream for their business, and it also complements their other hot food offers. Retailers like the fact that our offer is straightforward and so easy to maintain."

According to Him data, convenience stores that offer hot food to go generate a higher basket spend which is over 10% more (£4.06) than the average food-to-go shopper (£3.69).

Finally, Kepak Consumer Foods’ Rustlers range provides an easy hot food option. Monisha Singh, shopper marketing manager at Kepak, says: "As the popularity of sandwiches continues to decline, almost three quarters (74%) of food-to-go shoppers now buy meat snacks or hot food to go regularly for lunch (WDR and Him research). Rustlers provides a hot option, with the choice and variety that a growing number of shoppers are looking for, making the range a must stock for forecourt retailers."

She continues: "The fact that eight out of 10 food-to-go shoppers have a microwave at work, and more than half of all food-to-go shoppers eat their lunch at their workplace, highlights the pivotal role that Rustlers can play in food to go. Research also highlights Rustlers’ pulling power in attracting food-to-go shoppers, with almost two-thirds of them (65%) saying they’re more inclined to go to stores which stock the brand."

Kepak enables forecourt retailers to offer an in-store cooking solution with its microwaves and hot food-to-go units, both of which are proven to boost sales of micro-snacking products. The microwave is pre-programmed to cook the best-selling Rustlers SKUs, but it can also cook other microwavable products. It comes with a large preparation area and built-in waste bin to keep the surrounding area tidy. The Rustlers food-to-go unit with microwave costs £650 plus VAT plus delivery while the microwave on its own costs £250 plus VAT plus delivery.

new products

Rustlers burgers are now available in a ’Cook in Box’ format where consumers can heat the fully assembled burger without opening the pack. The packaging creates a protective barrier around the product, eliminating any messy preparation, while also acting as a product carrier for easy consumption on the go. The packaging includes a ’micro-crisping sleeve’ to ensure the bun is perfectly cooked. Two products are available: All Day Breakfast Double Sausage Muffin and the Classic Cheeseburger (both are rrp £2.50).
Ginsters of Cornwall has partnered with Quorn, to launch the Ginsters Vegan Quorn Pasty.
Quorn’s new ambient range includes three new heat-and-eat bowls: Chilli Bean; Biryani; and Spiced Chickpea & Lentil. Also available are three stir-and-eat Wonder Grain products: Thai Style; Mediterranean; and Mexican 3 Bean; rrp is £2.19.
The St Pierre ’On the Go’ range has a wide variety of products that cover every meal occasion. The company can provide retailers with branded free-standing display units.
Urban Eat’s Roots range comprises vegetarian and vegan sandwiches and wraps with punchy flavours and quirky names all are approved by the Vegetarian Society.

Plant-based options from Wall’s

Rebecca Bolt, head of innovation at Addo Food Group, which owns the Wall’s Pastry licence, says the key to cashing in on the plant-based food market is targeting ’flexitarian’ and semi-vegetarian dieters because only 3% of people identify as vegans (Kantar data).
"There is clear evidence that a flexitarian lifestyle is on the rise, with a total of 4.4 billion meat-free dinners being consumed in 2018 (Kantar) but this doesn’t mean consumers want to compromise on quality and taste when it comes to on-the-go snacking.
"Times are changing, and we believe everyone should be able to enjoy our chilled savoury pastry products, no matter what diet they follow. We are confident that forecourt traders will be able to capitalise on the growing opportunity plant-based on-the-go alternatives provide.
"Our latest range of Wall’s Pastry ’tasty vegan’ rolls, which includes on-the-go snacking four-packs and quick meal staple Jumbo Rolls, use two plant-based proteins instead of sausage a potassium-rich fibrous jackfruit, famous for its pulled pork-like texture, which absorbs the flavours of a hickory smoked BBQ sauce, and Hooba, a new innovative vegan mince made from oyster mushrooms."
Bolt adds: "We’re incredibly excited to be the first brand to introduce Hooba to our product range.
"Our team of chefs has spent several years developing these recipes to emulate the nation’s beloved sausage roll experience.
"Biting into crisp, flaky pastry and hot, peppery sausage meat is a treat which is no longer exclusive to meat eaters."

Catering for all food-to-go consumers

To help retailers boost their food-to-go sales further, Costcutter Supermarkets Group has introduced a new product brochure, which includes merchandising guides, new food concepts, suppliers and ranges as well as retailer case studies.
Commenting on the food-to-go market, Mike Owen, category director at Costcutter, says: "The trend towards less defined meal times, presents forecourt retailers with a real opportunity to drive food-to-go sales throughout the day.
"In fact, 17% of all food-to-go is sold in forecourts (Him data) so having a strong range of sandwiches, wraps and salads is vital to bring in the lunchtime crowd. Our new range of Co-op own-brand products includes classics such as Deep Fill Egg & Bacon and exciting flavour profiles such as Chimichurri Flatbread Pockets. Our best-selling food-to-go item is the Co-op own-brand Deep Fill Chicken & Bacon sandwich, closely followed by the Deep Fill Chicken Salad sandwich."
Owen says the Co-op brand offers healthier snack options such as high-protein Satay Chicken Snack Packs with Chilli, Egg & Spinach Pots and Falafel & Houmous Snack Packs.
"One of the biggest growths in this category has been towards pre-prepared fruit and salads, where demand has more than doubled in the past two years. There is also growing demand for plant-based meals, clean eating and gluten-free foods so retailers should be stocking these. And, with the war on waste continuing to gather momentum, we’re encouraging retailers to offer refillable water bottles and filling stations."