As more time-starved drivers take to the road in the UK, so the need for meals on the move continues to grow, with forecourts being the prime destination for travelling motorists.
Datamonitor, in its report into meals consumed out of the home, published in May this year, estimates that by 2009, Brits will consume nearly three billion less main meals at home with breakfast being the most frequently missed meal.
Last year, out-of-home consumption in the UK accounted for 31% of all eating occasions, and is set to rise to over 35% by 2009, representing an additional 4.2 billion extra meal and snacks eaten out of home, according to Datamonitor. In contrast, the number of in-home meal and snack occasions is forecast to decline by 1.7 billion.
“Increasingly consumers are fitting their meals around their busy lifestyles rather than prioritising time to structured mealtimes,” says Daniel Bone, consumer analyst at Datamonitor. “Consumers have become demanding and want convenient, tasty, healthy products that are widely available.
“It seems snacking – be it pit-stop dining, desktop dining or eating on the go, is continuing to help make traditional mealtimes a thing of the past. However, it is important for manufacturers to recognise the need to meet consumer demands for healthier and more nutritious snacks to help compensate for missed meals.”
Mintel’s ‘Dashboard Dining’ report published in February this year reveals that 22% of consumers often eat or drink in the car on a long journey, adding that nearly 24 million Britons are estimated to have gone on a break in 2004, an increase of 5% since 2000. It also claims that the typically affluent socio-economic ABC1 groups command nearly one third each of dashboard eaters, while socio-economic D group make up just over 15%. Car ownership is said to play a big part in this trend, but research also shows that the D and E groups tend to snack less often than their more affluent counterparts.
GET IN ON THE ACT
However large or small your forecourt shop, it’s simple to get in on the act, with companies such as Country Choice and Cuisine de France offering a complete food-to-go solution from equipment and a diverse range of products, to point of sale and operational support.
Smaller forecourts, or those wanting to test the water with hot food, might opt for a small self-service cabinet offering a tight range of the best sellers, while larger, more established sellers of hot food could plump for a broad range serving all meal occasions, and an investment in dedicated staff to boot.
Somerfield has been making great inroads in the hot food category, and in partnership with Country Choice, has introduced a new-look Bake & Bite concept at the supermarket chain’s busy forecourt site in Evesham, Worcestershire. Key elements of this project include time-of-day menu management and a range of new equipment solutions.
“Once again we have worked closely with Country Choice to try to maximise the opportunities offered by food to go, and we are very pleased with the outcome,” says Mark Dempsey of Somerfield’s Convenience Business Team.
Until the refit, the site had been operating an extended breakfast service, offering everything from baps to a full English, right up until two o’clock in the afternoon, after which point trade tended to ease off. To try and combat this, Country Choice has introduced a wider menu that now includes proper lunchtime products such as chicken wings and spicy wedges.
The new range of equipment solutions have changed the way in which customers are served. By nearly doubling the amount of hot food space and introducing a self-serve unit, Country Choice has solved a number of issues that previously limited the amount of business the site could reasonably cope with.
For one, queues have been reduced thanks to the new self-serve unit that means customers who simply want a bap, baguette or hand-held snack such as a Steak Bake, no longer have to queue behind those customers wanting a more intricate meal. They can simply grab their wrapped and prepared products and take them straight to the till for payment.
Country Choice says its current best sellers include its Sausage Roll, Bacon & Cheese Turnover, Steak Bake, Chicken Tikka Masala Bake, Full Breakfast Bap, Chicken Wings and Spicy Wedges, Seasoned Wedges, Bacon Bap, Cheeseburger Puff, and Cheese & Onion Roll.
Continuing its development in food to go products for the convenience sector, Cuisine de France relaunched its Pierre’s brand in March this year, adding a range of hand-held savouries. The savoury bars range includes the Breakfast Bar, Cheese and Onion Bar, Cornish Bar – a twist on the traditional Cornish pasty – and a Chicken Tikka Masal Bar; and the range of savoury slices comprises Steak Slice, and Chicken & Mushroom Slices.
The company has also introduced the Pops range of pizza dough pockets in four different flavours – Sausage & Egg, Chicken Curry, Pepperoni Pizza, and Three Cheese Pizza. Other hot food products under the Pierre’s brand include spicy potato wedges, chicken wings, and hot sandwich components.
GOING BIG ON FAST FOOD
The growth in ‘dashboard dining’ is spurring some forecourt retailers to set up more involved food-to-go offers. One of the most recent developments for the Subway franchise, for example, has been the first Subway drive-thru in the UK and Ireland – on a Shell petrol station in Trafford Road, Salford Quays, Manchester.
Offering freshly made submarine sandwiches, wraps and salads that are made to order, the drive-thru is operated by Greg Beswick, who opened his first Subway franchise opposite Manchester Metropolitan University in Oxford Road.
Says Greg: “I am in a position to bring something fantastic to the people of Manchester – healthy fast food on the move. This is a significant gap in the fast food market and something that the Subway chain fills particularly well. Travelling business people and families who want to grab something on route now have the option to grab food on-the-go that can complement a healthy lifestyle – it’s all about choice.”
The Subway drive-thru works like any other drive-thru operation – customers order their sandwich via an intercom and the person taking the order will enter the details, along with every topping & sauce required, onto the point of sale. They will then transfer this data onto a screen above the store’s second sandwich unit. The ‘sandwich artists’ then make the orders up. The order-taker can be taking the next car’s order and queuing it up on the same screen ready for the sandwich artists to make.
HOT DOG DEVELOPMENT
Hot dog supplier Rollover has been creating self-service hot dog units for convenience retailers keen to develop a hot food offering. The first of these have been developed with Roadchef. It was installed in the Clacket Lane service station on the M25 last autumn and Darren Emery, Roadchef’s forecourts new initiatives manager, reports that sales have been better than anticipated. “It is doing extremely well and is now part of the hot food offer running on the forecourt,” he says.
The unit features a warmer to heat and hold hot dogs and sliced baguettes and is located in the food corner of the forecourt alongside hot beverages. It allows customers coming into the shop to pay for their fuel and also to serve themselves with a hot dog. Sales are now up to several hundred pounds a week and Emery is implementing plans to introduce 11 further units at Roadchef’s service stations.
Emery says: “People spend about 40 seconds in the shop and we want to capture their interest and boost sales by offering quality products. Rollover is a trusted and recognised brand that offers something different. The hot dogs have provided a point of difference for us and generated incremental sales that will continue to increase as we come into our peak sales period in the summer.”