With more people watching what they spend, will the luxury of a shop-bought lunch be forsaken for a home-made butty? Homeware and hardware chain Robert Dyas has reported a 68% year-on-year rise in sales of lunch-boxes but the sandwich and food-to-go suppliers to the forecourt trade remain pretty upbeat about the future.

Cuisine De France believes that over 40% of consumers intend to purchase food to go when they’re in the forecourt environment. The company says an important driver of this is the beverage offering, and in particular meal deals that link drinks with food to go and as a result help drive sales. It is currently developing "solutions that are convenient for food-for-now missions".

And at Country Choice, marketing controller Stephen Clifford, says: "Like everyone else in the marketplace we undoubtedly saw a slowdown in the second half of 2008, but I wouldn’t say sandwiches or savouries have been affected any more than other categories. We have picked up rumours of a rise in homemade lunches, but have yet to see any direct evidence of this ourselves."

He adds that they haven’t heard anything negative about their pricing either but have received an increase in requests for meal deals. "The discount doesn’t have to be that great and a decent poster at point of purchase seems to be all that’s needed," explains Clifford. "We tend to do very simple ’belly posters’ along the following lines: big and bold, with a clear price package. At the centre of the offer is a savoury or sandwich, supported by a coffee/soft drink plus either a bag of crisps or a piece of fruit.

"When it comes to added value, another area of significant recent growth has been multibuys on confectionery items such as mini doughnuts or cookies in a bag. These work really well for forecourts near offices or on school run routes. They tend to be impulse purchases so the best tip here is to site the relevant dumpbin near the till."

Meanwhile Andy Valentine, head of brand marketing at Ginsters, reckons financial uncertainty compels consumers to turn to brands they know and trust to provide value and quality. "The success of Ginsters over the past year has shown that consumers are still buying quality brands and the market for savoury pastries remains strong despite the current economic climate. Our brand continues to perform well and is on target to hit record sales by the end of our financial year."

And at Wild Bean Café, BP spokesman Mark Salt, says: "We are always looking at different ways of ensuring we offer the best deal for our customers, by adding value and differentiating Wild Bean Café from other brands."

Recently Wild Bean ran a lunch and breakfast deal (any baguette, 500ml bottle of Pepsi and packet of Walkers crisps for £3.99). This month sees the launch of an offer of a half price Oasis drink with any sandwich.

== DIY sandwiches ==

For those retailers wishing to capitalise on the home-made lunch there is plenty of opportunity. Indeed according to TNS Worldpanel data, the number of lunchbox occasions is increasing. In the past year there were 3.8bn lunchbox occasions, which is a 5% increase compared to two years ago, with growth driven by adults in particular. Research shows that 67% of lunchboxes are consumed at work, with men under 64 and women under 34 being the key consumers. The remaining 23% of lunchboxes are consumed at school.

Sarah Miskell, category director at Warburtons, says bread remains the staple ingredient in lunchboxes - the company has found that 77% of all lunchboxes in the UK feature a sandwich. Rolls make a good alternative to bread and Warburtons is the largest branded rolls manufacturer in the UK. Indeed its 12 white sandwich rolls pack is the best-selling branded SKU.

The company has been quick to respond to consumer demand for healthier bread products. Its current line-up includes the Wholegrain Goodness loaf which contains malted wheat flakes and sunflower seeds; All in One, a soft white loaf that contains all the wheatgerm goodness and fibre of wholemeal; Wholemeal Fibre Boost which contains extra fibre so one serving of two slices provides more than a third of the guideline daily allowance of fibre; and Healthy Inside bread baked with the natural pre biotic ingredient inulin, which stimulates the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.

Jean-Paul Pelaez, head of category management at Bel UK, reckons retailers need to acknowledge changing consumer attitudes to spending and maximise the lunchbox sales opportunity. According to British Sandwich Association figures, cheese is still very popular as a sandwich filling. Pelaez recommends Leerdammer and Port Salut slices for people making sandwiches and baguettes "because they offer speed and convenience which are important in today’s time-pressured world".

Finally Bestway has added a new range of cooked meats and cheese slices to its Best-in own-label line up. There are 14 products including roast pork, turkey, various hams, chicken breast, corned beef, luncheon meat and three varieties of sliced cheeses. All give retailers a profit on return of 30%. Nick Brown, Bestway controller responsible for Best-in brand, says: "The products are all pricemarked in line with what our independent retailer customers tell us they want and have a top quality endorsement too."


=== Case study: Townstal Road garage, Dartmouth ===

Julian Hollis is the manager of the Spar store at Townstal Road Garage, Dartmouth, Devon which offers food-to-go shoppers Cuisine2go with Tim Hortons. He says they opted to work with Cuisine de France (CDF) because the site’s previous food-to-go offer had realised its maximum potential.

Julian explains: "With the CDF team we’ve introduced speciality breads to help us create a point of difference. We’ve also added handmade curry meals from the Little Cornish Curry Company which are proving really popular. Cuisine2go has given us the opportunity to make our own sandwiches to complement the filled baguettes that we were previously selling. In addition, we are in the process of launching a catering service for children’s parties. We’re next to a leisure centre and they have agreed to hand out our flyers when bookings are placed. "

The store adopted Cuisine2Go in the summer of 2007 and since then Julian says they’ve experienced a 40% increase in sales. He adds that the Tim Hortons coffee and donut concept was an immediate success: "Previously we had a bean-to-cup offer that we thought performed well, however our coffee sales immediately took off when we converted to Tim Hortons and we’ve experienced a 50%-plus increase in the number of cups sold - all at a higher price point. My initial apprehension about how donuts would perform and my worries about potential wastage have never materialised. Sales are most encouraging, after only eight weeks we’d moved towards 200 donuts per week.

Tim Hortons has complemented the Cuisine2go concept on both a visual and incremental sales basis - it’s an ideal fit."