It can be hard to keep up with changes in the food-to-go category as they keep coming thick and fast. But when you look at the data you can see why. According to Him!’s latest research, food-to-go drives 890 million shopping trips to convenience stores every year and contributes £3.9bn to the sector. Him! conducted 1,180 face-to-face food-to-go shopper interviews at Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local, The Co-op, Spar, Budgens, Nisa, Costa, Greggs, Pret and Burger King during last summer. It found that supermarket c-stores were ’winning’ with regard to quality of sandwiches and meal deal offers, while symbol stores were considered comparable with supermarket c-stores in terms of in-store bakery and food-to-go prices, but stronger in service.

Katie Littler, communication director at Him!, says: "Proximity to store is the number one reason why shoppers are choosing convenience stores for their food-to-go needs. This isn’t the case with specialist foodservice outlets these retailers are attracting shoppers with their range, brand, prices and service. Convenience stores need to identify a food-to-go USP. Relying on proximity leaves them particularly vulnerable to new competition in the area, including delivery apps which mean shoppers don’t even need to leave their work/home."

However, operators within the forecourt sector have been working hard to develop USPs. For example, Jet recently announced the launch of its Snack on the Go concept in conjunction with Expresso Plus and Country Choice. And the entries to this year’s Forecourt Trader of the Year awards in the Food-to-Go category were outstanding. Sewell on the go, which walked off with the overall Forecourt Trader of the Year award for South Cave, has put in a lot of effort to grow and develop its food-to-go sales. South Cave was the first of its sites to have a Subway and it’s also a trial site for Rollover’s new chicken baguette. At Sewell’s Hull West site, their breakfast offer starts at 4am while Rollover hot dogs are available from 4am until midnight each day.

Meanwhile at Tout’s Budgens of Nailsea, they are reporting amazing sales growth, thanks in part to promotions. The site’s most popular day for food-to-go is now a Wednesday, thanks to department head Dawn Lewin’s endeavours. Dawn introduced a One Day Special on a Wednesday offering meals that the site doesn’t usually sell such as pizza, roast beef or pulled pork. She explains: "Wednesdays have become very popular with our office customers from across the road, and people are now asking on a Tuesday what the special will be tomorrow and then looking forward to it."

With most forecourts and convenience stores offering food-to-go in some shape or form nowadays, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd. But that’s exactly what Maxol Scarva Road in Banbridge, Co Down, did when it wowed the judges of the Forecourt Trader of the Year awards enough to win Best Food-to-Go outlet. Those judges were looking for innovation, visual impact, sales success, staff engagement, breadth of range and promotional initiatives and this site certainly ticked all those boxes.

Visual impact is made as soon as you drive onto the forecourt as a big ’Moreish fresh food at Maxol’ logo appears in the shop window and you can see through to the brightly coloured seating area.

Once inside, you can’t help but be impressed by what greets you. A wide chiller counter with, from left to right, salad items in pristine white bowls, meats and sauces and then a good selection of hot food (curries, pies and lasagne).

A board above the chiller invites you to take Three Steps to Food Heaven, which illustrates the breadth of range available. Step One is all about choosing your bread, whether that’s traditional sliced white or sliced bloomer or a more speciality carrier such as a sourdough baguette or a flavoured wrap. There are up to 12 to choose from.

In Step Two, you choose your sauce. There are 13 including BBQ, mayo, ketchup, red onion relish and sweet chilli. Then it’s onto Step Three which is your filling, divided into proteins and salads. Chicken, pulled pork, salami and cheese are amongst the proteins while salads include egg mayo, coleslaw and sundried tomatoes. For £2.70 you get a choice from the traditional bread list, sauce and three fillings (one protein and two salads). If you opt for speciality bread, it’s £3.

"Our Menu Board is very clear and concise. It gives the customer ideas and inspiration while also making them aware of the price to ensure there is no surprise when they get to the till," explains store manager Julie-Ann Ewart.

Speciality range

For people who find the choice too much, the board includes Speciality Sandwiches, all priced at £3.50, such as the Moreish Club, Pulled Pork BBQ and Italian Chicken Fresco. "You can only purchase these sandwiches at Moreish, so this gives us our very own unique selling point," says Julie-Ann, who adds that the Club is the current favourite.

She says food-to-go works thanks to the very strong and dedicated team. All staff have been trained by Aryzta, and the supplier checks in on the site once a month to catch up and see if there are any issues and talk about any new products. Wastage is not a big issue for the site. Wastage versus availability is constantly monitored so that it can be reviewed regularly. In addition, all the staff are experienced and have a great awareness of what sells best.

And not only are the staff good at putting together the food, they are great food-to-go ’champions’ too, always engaging with customers to recommend items and advising them of any offers.

Julie-Ann says offers have helped build sales. The site successfully ran one linked to fuel purchases, aimed at converting fuel-only customers.

If they spent over £20 on fuel they received a coupon for money off at the food-to-go counter for example, £1.50 off a speciality sandwich or a free drink with any food-to-go purchase.

Today they can use the Moreish loyalty card where, once they’ve bought five sandwiches, they get the sixth free and likewise with drinks, once they’ve bought five they get the sixth free.

But it’s not just the offers that have attracted new customers. Julie-Ann says the cabinet is so eye catching that often customers who only intended buying a pre-packed sandwich end up purchasing from the counter.

Once customers have completed their Three Steps to Food Heaven, they can enjoy their food in the café area. There are 16 seats including bright yellow stools at a bar and red and yellow seats round tables. Jewel-coloured pendant lighting finishes off the area.

The shop serves a wide range of customers including school kids, business people and parents with young children. The food-to-go is popular all day thanks to this mix of customers.

The seating area has a TV to keep the children entertained while their parents have a quick bite to eat. For those who need to keep connected, there are sockets for plugging in laptops as well as free wi-fi.

Moreish was put in at Scarva Road as part of a store refit in February. Moreish is Maxol’s food-to-go brand and the Three Steps to Heaven concept is a recent addition. The food-to-go area takes up around 400sq ft floor space and currently contributes about more than 21% to store takings, with sales still growing.

The Deli

Choice and in-store theatre come together nicely in Country Choice’s new The Deli concept. It attracted a lot of interest at Booker’s recent trade shows and the first installation has already taken place at a Budgen’s store in Ascot. It brings together all of Country Choice’s food-to-go options in one continuous counter, finished with an eye-catching, full length, black slate surface.

At Maloney’s Budgens in Ascot, there are three ’help yourself’ display units housing hot and cold foods then serve-over options such as noodles and sauce and curry and rice.

These latter items are served via bain maries which can also be used for breakfast food such as porridge.

The ’help yourself’ units are rear fed so staff don’t get in the way of customers and the shelving is slightly sloped so items can easily be moved forward.

The centre of the counter incorporates a low level section so, rather than having to hand products over the top of the display units, staff can serve customers directly, which is much more consumer friendly. Country Choice’s head of marketing, Stephen Clifford, says The Deli is not operational in any forecourt yet but it’s just a matter of time.

The latest product launch from Country Choice is The Sausage Roll Co range of six premium quality bake-from-frozen sausage rolls. The varieties are: The Classic; West Country Cheddar & Onion; Pork & Smoky Bacon; Pork, Cheese & Pickle; Chilli Beef; and Pork & Chorizo. Clifford says the 5" long, 55% fill sausage rolls use meat that’s been chosen to keep its texture ie "nice and firm". Once baked they have a shelflife of four hours. Packed 24 to a case, they have an rrp of £2.29.

Point of sale material supports the range including holders and stickers.

Sweeten the deal

If Sarah O’Neill, head of the new Cake on the Go team at Premier Foods has her way then Mr Kipling is going to be exceedingly busy. That’s because the firm is now promoting cake as a food-to-go item. O’Neill says that while 35% of confectionery is eaten on the go, currently only 5% of cake is and she’s out to change that. "Whether it’s consumed as a little treat or a quick top-up, we want to make cake more visible so consumers can consider it as an option," she says.

And to this end, new twin-packs of popular Mr Kipling and Cadbury cakes are available in shelf-ready packaging to make it as easy as possible for retailers to place cake in high traffic areas. O’Neill says parasite units have been really popular when placed by confectionery displays, sandwich chillers and near coffee-to-go to maximise visibility.

"The branded counter top and hook-over units (pictured below right) we have available take up minimal space, but are impactful and stand out to shoppers." Retailers can email to order a free pos kit and display units.

Premier’s Cake on the Go mission started last year with a trial in convenience stores where an Angel Slices twinpack outsold a leading confectionery brand. This was followed by the launch, earlier this year, of Mr Kipling twin pack slices in the three best-selling flavours; Angel, Chocolate and Lemon Layered, as well as Cadbury Mini Rolls twin packs.

The twin-pack format is key to the product’s success, as O’Neill says customers love the idea of portion control. She says Angel Slices is the best seller but recently-launched Cherry Bakewell is doing exceptionally well.

At 89p a pack, O’Neill says the cakes offer great value and she expects sales to be incremental as on-the-go is a different occasion to traditional tea and cake.

And we can expect to see even more Mr Kipling cakes to go. Premier Foods is doing a small trial of some special seasonal Christmas packs and has plans for Easter ones too.

25 years of Rollover

The Rollover hot dog concept was started 25 years ago, by an entrepreneur who set up a number of shop franchises across the UK. Over time the business model changed when he started supplying football clubs, schools and leisure venues.
Reflecting on the brand’s phenomenal success, sales and marketing director Tony Owen believes its biggest achievement was the move into forecourts and convenience retail thanks to the display and serving solution the company developed. "This moved the brand from a B2B one to a nationally recognised consumer brand and effectively built a new hot food category for retailers and forecourt operators," he says.
Today you’ll find Rollover in around 400 forecourt stores. When asked whether Rollover is right for every forecourt, Owen says: "Yes, forecourts need to embrace food-to-go as they future-proof their business. We have many case studies where we work very well alongside established high-street brands or franchises, and many case studies where we work exceptionally well as a standalone food offer. Our offer is straightforward, easy to operate, high-quality food."
Over the course of those 25 years Owen says the company has improved the core product, launched a Gourmet range and added lines such as the breakfast sausage and Chilli Dog to the range to help retailers drive overall rate of sale. "The other thing we’ve improved significantly is our equipment with the launch of the forecourt warmer."
Twenty-five years is some milestone and Rollover held an anniversary lunch to celebrate with money raised going to Help for Heroes. "With lots of support from local businesses we raised £1,300 for the cause in about three hours," says Owen.
Consumers can take part in the celebrations too thanks to a 25th anniversary promotion where they need to ’Like’ Rollover’s Facebook page to be in with a chance of winning free cinema tickets.