Some data suggests that the convenience store sector is missing out on food-to-go growth. Yes, the food-to-go market in general is in growth but data from MCA Insight suggests that food-to-go sales in convenience will remain static for some time. But, helpfully, there is more data at hand to show why food-to-go in convenience is not always a hit with shoppers. Him’s Convenience Tracking Programme 2018 asked shoppers what stopped them from buying more food to go than they currently do.

The top answer from 20% of respondents was that stores didn’t stock enough items in general. Second came ’Not enough fresh choices’ (16%); then ’Uninspiring choices’ (14%); ’Not many meal deal offers’ (12%); ’No meal deal offer’ (11%); followed by ’Too many unhealthy options’ (10%), and lastly ’The sandwiches within the meal deal’ (9%).

Sandwiches are typically the mainstay of any food-to-go offer and Him found that 33% of food-to-go shoppers believe it is important that branded sandwiches are available. The research firm also found that 20% of shoppers on a food-to-go mission intend to buy a meal deal. With this in mind, Him asked shoppers how meal deals could be improved. The top response was a wider range of products included in the deal (23%) followed by healthier snacks included (15%). ’Cheaper price’ came next followed by ’better quality sandwiches’.

"To really generate footfall to store and drive sales, retailers need to offer a variety of products within their food-to-go offering," says Val Kirillovs, research and insights director at Him. "Meal deals are important, but it isn’t all about pre-packed sandwiches. Shoppers want healthier alternatives and want to be inspired. Introducing a hot food-to-go offering will not only inspire your shoppers, but will also help boost the sales of non-hot food-to-go items. Branded products are important, however a wide range of options is key to improving satisfaction and loyalty."

While the wider convenience market may not always be making the most of the food-to-go opportunity, the forecourt sector often has a better reputation for its innovation and execution.

"The main reason people visit forecourt shops has changed dramatically, and it’s important that retailers respond accordingly to this shift in attitudes," says Mary Byrne, trade marketing manager retail at Aryzta Food Solutions. "Forecourts significantly over-index in food-to-go, with 23% of shoppers on a food-to-go mission versus 15% in convenience, making it a hugely important category for this channel. Crucially, more and more forecourts are moving away from being primarily fuel outlets, with as many as 70% offering a hot food-to-go option and 22% providing an area for eating and drinking in-store." Byrne reckons there’s never been a better time to review your in-store food-to-go and bakery offering to enhance the shopping experience and, in turn, drive sales.

Hannah Morter, marketing executive at Country Choice, says that providing a site is well positioned, ideally near a school, business park or on a main transit route, the majority of retailers will benefit from a food-to-go offer. "Retailers should start with a ’thaw & serve’ range of key confectionery lines displayed on a free-standing display unit and a small, core range of hot savouries.

"A tempting breakfast offer including breakfast baps, bakes and turnovers coupled with a solid hot drink offer will encourage purchases from blue- collar workers.

"Once established, retailers should look to develop their breakfast range and introduce some afternoon-specific items such as burgers and pasties."

Prominent location

Robert Dearnaley, managing director of 4 Elms Group, used a £100,000 shop refit at his Jet 4 Elms South site as an opportunity to ramp up its food-to-go offering. "Previously, we had a modest food-to-go offering through our symbol group, Spar, with a small selection of hot bakes, sandwiches and some snacks. During the refit we decided to move food to go from the back of the store to a much more prominent location right next to the entrance," says Robert. "Although we’ve only increased our food-to-go range by around 15%, sales have increased by 50% in just six weeks and we anticipate that this will rise even further. Getting the positioning right in-store has played a huge part in this success and offering more hot food options has proved very popular," he explains.

The new layout and increased chiller space means customers see the Lavazza coffee machine, heated food cabinet and a long food-to-go chiller as soon as they enter the store. The signage is clear and Robert says the Spar pos highlighting deals is bright and prominent.

"Around 70% of our customer base is local and a lot travel to and from the Thames Port so we’re well located to capitalise on the passing trade, but there is also a development of 300 new homes going on very close to the site so we’re tailoring our products to the tradespeople working on the new homes.

"We’ve now got a great selection of grab-and-go snacks and more substantial meals throughout the day. Our on-site kitchen means we can offer a range of hot savoury items such as sausage rolls, pasties and slices. We’ve also got a microwave that customers can use to heat Rustlers items.

"In the morning, as well as hot breakfast items, we sell breakfast pots of cereal and milk and granola and yogurt, then for lunch there’s now a huge range of sandwiches, crisps, drinks and confectionery. There’s always lots of deals for customers to take advantage of throughout the day and our staff are trained to make customers aware if they are missing out on deals, which also helps in terms of upselling."

Robert says Spar offers a lot of choice for those looking for healthier on-the-go options, so they now stock lots of salads, pasta pots and a range of single- item fresh fruit, which is proving popular. "When the new houses have been built and residents have moved in, we’re going to trial Danish pastries and cakes to see if that attracts more walk-on trade. We’ll keep playing around with the offering to ensure we meet our customers’ requirements," he explains.

Further north, in Willenhall in the West Midlands, a partnership with Rustlers is paying dividends for a Texaco/Nisa forecourt.

Demand for chilled food-to-go lines including microwaveable snacks, sandwiches, pies and pastries, meat snacks and cakes increased by an average of 54% in just nine weeks after manager Simon Krzysiak worked with Rustlers on its new chilled food-to-go merchandising initiative

Changes included merchandising products that compete for the same occasion together, ie Rustlers micro-snacks adjacent to sandwiches to cater for the key lunchtime market; moving meat and cheese snacks from two shelves onto one to cater for snacking; clearly positioning soft drinks as part of the food-to-go offer; and introducing eye-catching Rustlers shelf strips and wobblers to attract impulse shoppers to the bay.

"We’ve got a really big forecourt with lots of passing trade and space for large lorries and vans to park, and we attract lots of people going to and from work, so food to go is big business for us," says Simon, who’s managed the 24-hour store for three years.

"Chilled food sales are really important to us and most of our customers buy on convenience. There aren’t many places nearby where you can buy breakfast, so we’re able to capture the breakfast market and lunch is also a big sales opportunity.

"Working with Rustlers opened our eyes as to how important it is to get the layout and presentation of chilled convenience products right. We were hoping for a sales increase, but a rise of over 50% was much higher than we expected."

A Rustlers microwave on site also gives shoppers the chance to opt for products that can be heated in-store, boosting demand for products at key times such as breakfast and lunch.

Meanwhile, Hemant Tandon, operations director at Park Garage Group, says hot dog brand Rollover has been instrumental in the growth of the company’s food-to-go business. "The product range covers all times of day, with the Wall’s Breakfast Sausage being a great success with morning customers who also purchase coffee.

"We also offer the spicy Chilli Dog which satisfies afternoon customers looking for something a bit different.

"Rollover has been a great partner helping to find solutions to fit our stores whether that is with their premium vending unit or better utilisation of our existing equipment."

Hemant says Rollover has given Park Garage Group great support and customer service via a dedicated account manager and business development team to help drive sales.

As a result of the success so far, the forecourt group is in the process of adding Rollover into more of its estate and working with them on new products.

new products

Country Choice has a new Savour It bake-in-the-pack ready-made paninis and wraps range. They come ready assembled and individually packaged in ’ovenable’ film. Simply bake from frozen in 25 minutes and place in a hot display unit for up to two hours.
Over 300 BP/M&S Simply Food sites across the UK are now selling The Primal Pantry’s protein bars. There are four flavours: Cocoa Brownie, Cocoa Orange, Mixed Berry and Double Espresso, with each containing 15g of plant protein.
New from Aryzta is the Vegan Saag Aloo lattice slice containing potato and spinach, blended with aromatic herbs and spices. Rrp is £1.50.
Pep & Lekker has extended its range with the launch of three Seed Snacks: Rosemary & Pumpkin; Fennel & Sunflower; and Cumin & Nigella. They come in 30g packs, rrp £2.99.
New Fridge Raiders Combos, in BBQ and Chilli flavours, have two compartments containing bite-sized cheese pieces and a mixture of beans and rice puffs.
KP has been promoting its 71-calorie Skips and Hula Hoops Puft products, to drive growth within healthy snacking. As well as highlighting the 71-calorie claim, the advertising highlighted the light texture and delicious flavours.