When it comes to food to go, who do you class as your competition? The Tesco down the road or the Greggs in town? The answer of course is that both of them are your competitors but it doesn’t end there. Competition in fact ranges from the packed lunch made at home to the burger picked up from the McDonald’s drive thru. It’s a worrying thought, but being aware of what the competition is up to can help you build your business. You can ’borrow’ ideas or simply adapt your offer to complement theirs.

So, did you know, for instance, that KFC (the fast food chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) has entered the breakfast market? It has, with the KFC AM range. It’s not all chicken either but instead traditional breakfast products. A trial run has 18 outlets opening at 6am, serving breakfast until 10.30am.

And McDonald’s is reported to be rolling out a range of premium products to appeal to cash-strapped consumers who are trading down from restaurant meals. Meanwhile Burger King is selling a £95 ’luxury’ burger from its Gloucester Road outlet in London. Ingredients include Wagyu beef, white truffles and Pata Negra ham. Customers have to order ahead via a special hotline. For the less affluent, the fast food chain has recently launched what it says is the first burger for sharing. The BK Angus 6-Pack comprises six mini burgers - joined together for ’tearing and sharing’ - two plain, two cheese and two bacon & cheese. And further afield, in the US, Dominoes Pizza is offering consumers an online Tracker service where they can track their order from the time it is placed through to preparation, baking, boxing and delivery. Apparently it’s accurate to 40 seconds!

== Big business ==

Fast food is a massive business in the UK. According to Key Note, the fast food and takeways market was worth £9.33bn in 2007 and it is expected to increase to £11.08bn by 2012. The fastest growing sectors are expected to be coffee shops, sandwich outlets and pizza takeaways.

Currently in terms of outlets, Greggs (including Bakers Oven) is the biggest fast food/takeaway chain in the UK with 1,368. Number two is McDonald’s with 1,250 and number three is Subway with more than 1,110 stores, although this number includes outlets in Ireland. Key Note’s Catering report states that Pizza Hut is the largest pizza chain in the UK with 700 outlets and KFC the biggest chicken chain with 600 stores.

Greggs serves five million customers a week with two-thirds of its business coming from shop-made sandwiches and freshly baked savouries such as pies, pasties and sausage rolls.

Meanwhile the British Sandwich Association has released figures which show that Subway is now selling almost double the number of Tesco. The statistics state that Subway sold £300m-worth of sandwiches in 2007 followed by Tesco with £164m-worth, and Marks & Spencer with £151m-worth.

Further competition comes from coffee shops, most of which sell much more than just coffee. Costa, which is owned by Whitbread, has overtaken Starbucks to become the UK’s largest coffee chain with 655 outlets. The brewer recently announced that it is planning to double the number of its Costa shops. There are currently 992 worldwide and Whitbread plans to increase that number to 2,000 in the next five years, with half of the new shops in the UK. Starbucks has been in the news for shutting down 600 shops in the US but there is talk of an expansion plan in Europe which will include more stores in the UK.

Meanwhile Pret a Manger currently has 175 shops in the UK but new majority stakeholder Bridgepoint has pledged to open more outlets here. An interesting concept from Pret is currently on test in Canary Wharf. The new Pret Card is an electronic money product which customers can top-up online and then use in-store. Customers pick up a card in store. Minimum top-up is £5 and people can top up their card automatically on a regular basis.

However it would appear that the latest competition in food to go is coming from one of forecourt’s very own with the news that BP has just opened the first standalone version of its highly successful Wild Bean Café in the UK - at Portsmouth’s Continental ferry port in Hampshire.

The Wild Bean Café will be operated by foodservice company Aramark, which operates all catering for the port.

BP’s UK convenience retail director, Karen Hubbard, comments: "This is a natural progression of our existing roadside brand, which meets the needs of people who want a quality coffee and food offer in less than five minutes. Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port is the ideal location for the launch with many car and vehicle drivers who are already familiar with the brand."

The 1.9million people who pass through the terminal every year will be able to take advantage of the café’s quality coffee, baguettes, salads, pastries, and fruit. If you’ve never been in one, then now is the time to take a look because obviously BP has cooked up a real recipe for success!


=== Case study: Crossroads Service Station ===

Gary and Julie Chivers installed a Nuttall’s Turboserve hot food unit at their Crossroads Service Station in Cheddar, Somerset and have since seen takings soar from £400 to £1,000 a week.

The food to go section is run by Shirley Panes, who says: "Installing the Turboserve made an immediate impact on our business - people now come in, pay for their petrol, grab a hot snack and go. It’s so much more convenient."

Shirley starts up the hot food at 6am, with breakfast rolls, baps and turnovers. From 7.30am she starts introducing pastries, rolls and filled baguettes. Cooking continues until 12.30pm.

Coffee sales have soared too, with a Simply Coffee offer positioned next to the hot food, which is under the umbrella of Spar’s new To Go signage.

Gary Chivers is delighted with the outcome: "Our offer was far from shabby before, but the convenience business is a bit like riding a bicycle - if you don’t keep pedalling, you fall off. You have to keep changing. A lot of people sit on what they’ve got and then start to fall behind which means they then have to make a big investment to catch up. We try to make sure we keep spending to keep moving forward."


=== What’s New? ===

* Kepak has added a vegetarian variety to its Ugo’s Deli Café range. The four cheese & sweet red onion chutney panini joins chargrilled chicken with mozzarella cheese & pesto and bacon, cheese & mustard mayo. The range is backed by a £1.8m spend this year.

* Country Choice is offering retailers the components and recipes for six hot sandwiches. Each sandwich uses the company’s new white sub roll and there are 11 fillings including Italian style tomato pizza sauce, sweet chilli dipping sauce; caramellised red onion chutney; pre-fried sliced onions; tomato salsa; burger cheese slices; demi glace sauce; and wafer thin roast beef. Suggested sandwiches include Italian meatball, cheesy beef & red onion and sweet chilli chicken.

* Also new from Country Choice is the Big Bite sausage roll. The 250g rolls come in cases of 40 with a unit price of 69p. Recommended retail price is £1.35.

* And again from Country Choice comes a new baguette tray embossed with a ’handmade in store’ message. The 100% recyclable transparent trays come in 11" and 12" sizes and can be easily stacked to save space in the chiller cabinet. Available in cases of 250 for £30.30, unit price works out at just 12.1p.

* Ginsters has added New York-style steak & cheese to its Pasties of the World range. It is made from West Country steak, New York deli-style mustard and Manchego cheese. Recommended retail price is £1.89.

* Sweetbird 100% real fruit smoothies are an ambient product with a shelf life of at least three months. They contain no added sugar, preservatives, GMOs, artificial flavours or colourings and come in three flavour combinations: orange & mango, pineapple & passion fruit and blueberry & blackberry. They are distributed in the UK by Beyond the Bean.


=== Case study: Checkers Xpress, Jersey ===

Cathy Goldsmith was the store manager at the Five Oaks Checkers Xpress outlet when it won the Best Food-to-go prize in the Forecourt Trader of the Year awards 2007. She has since left that site to manage the chain’s Capital Bath Street store. She says: "Five Oaks is a really busy outlet on a roundabout so it gets passing trade as well as local trade from the nearby housing state plus lots of workmen - and they all love their food to go. Hamburgers, pizzas, curly fries - they all sell really well and turnover from food to go is now up to £4,500 a week. The volume of food it sells is amazing. Staff make 75-60 sandwiches a day - made to order with customers’ choice of filling plus they sell another 80-100 ready-made sandwiches. The staff know a lot of the customers so well that they have their sandwiches made ready for them to come in and collect. We use Country Choice for the made-to-order sandwiches and another company for the ready-made ones. Workmen love double cheeseburgers with wedges or a slice of pizza but we also get a lot of mums in for hamburgers and wedges.

At Five Oaks they also have self-service Tchibo coffee - it’s good quality and goes well but we have had to take it out of the store I’m in now (Capital Bath Street) and put in Costa Coffee instead because the customers didn’t like it. It’s amazing the difference in the two stores. Here at Bath Street we get loads of office workers in and they are all watching their weight and very conscious of what they eat so they want just sandwiches and salads."