The food-to-go market will see a strong resurgence in 2021, but won’t fully recover to pre-Covid levels until 2024, according to a new report by Lumina Intelligence.

Its UK Food To Go Market Report 2021 states that the market suffered a 45.5% decline in 2020, as the Covid-19 restrictions constrained travel and movement.

However, with restrictions easing and the vaccination programme moving swiftly, the report forecasts growth of 31.6% to £15.3bn in 2021, representing 72% of its 2019 value, before wider recovery and growth will see the channel reaching a value of £22.6bn in 2024.

Low-ticket channels, and those less exposed to the restrictions, are best placed for recovery with convenience store grab and go, supermarket grab and go, sandwich & bakery and travel all expected to recover more swiftly, to more than 74% of their pre-pandemic value in 2021.

The report identifies a number of changes in the way consumers interact with food to go caused by the Covid-19 restrictions, and suggests they present opportunities for the sector.

For instance, in the next few months as social restrictions ease, food to go is well placed to capitalise on the outdoor socialising occasion. Twenty-one per cent of consumers say they are likely to purchase food to go and eat it in a park in the future and this figure rises to 38% for consumers aged 18-24.

Operators including Pizza Pilgrim’s, German Doner Kebab and Megan’s Restaurants have already begun to develop propositions that offer portable and high-quality picnic-style meal solutions.

With 34% of consumers planning to work from home in the future, Food to ‘go home’ is also increasingly popular, with operators including Costa, Pret A Manger and Marks & Spencer targeting this occasion with new products featuring heat-at-home instructions.

The Top 10 food-to-go channels can look forward to a £1.1bn sales opportunity between 2022 and 2024, with sandwich & bakery and coffee shop/café segments poised to lead in absolute terms; underpinned by physical outlet growth, a core focus on takeaway/to-go and continued consumer aligned new product development.

Convenience store grab & go remains the largest food-to-go sub-channel but its contribution to growth will fall as it comes under increased pressure to compete with dedicated food to go specialists.

Katherine Prowse, insight manager at Lumina Intelligence, said: “The sudden shift from a highly transient, on-the-go society, to one with restrictions placed on movement had a significant negative impact on the UK food-to-go market in 2020, with much trade diverted to other routes to market such as delivery. However, buoyed by the easing of restrictions and the swift vaccine rollout, we will see a resurgence of the market in 2021, before a full recovery to pre-pandemic sales levels by 2024.”

“Retail-led food-to-go channels that are less exposed to tight restrictions and offer low-ticket solutions are best placed to recover quicker. However, operators and retailers will be forced to adapt. The continuation of home and hybrid work patterns for many and the rise in outdoor socialising will result in changes to the ways in which consumers will interact with food to go. Portable food-to-go solutions will strike appeal with consumers meeting friends/family in parks, whereas a shift in focus on food to ‘go home’, will provide a relevant solution to those home working.”