With nowhere to go or people to see, the pandemic saw the demand for food we’d consume on the move drop off almost entirely. The Grocer reported that sales of ‘on the go’ products were down a staggering 66% compared with pre-lockdown levels only six weeks into lockdown one.
Prior to the pandemic, the food-to-go sector had seen strong and consistent growth, but twelve months and multiple lockdowns later, Kantar data featured in The Grocer’s report found that the sector had lost over £8billion off it’s top line, heavily down to the closure of schools and offices.
However, despite the major disruption to the market, the industry is set to not only recover to its booming pre-pandemic levels, but exceed them. The Lumina Intelligence UK Food To Go Market Report 2021 forecasts growth of 31.6% to £15.3 billion in 2021, before wider recovery and growth sees the channel reaching a value of £22.6 billion in 2024.
As the nation recovers economically, and restrictions continue to lift, what can we expect from the food-to-go market? Here are some key trends to be aware of for the future of the industry.
Trends within the Food-to-Go sector
The economic impact of the pandemic has left many pulling on their purse strings, with 31% saying they’re worse off financially as a result of the pandemic. As a result, we can expect to see shifts in buying habits.
For some, regular consumption of food-to-go products will drive them to opt for offers which give them the best value for their money, so competitively priced meal deals or lunch time specials will be high in demand. Alternatively, for those set to take a more flexible approach to home/office balance, many plan to make their own lunches more regularly than during pre-pandemic times. As such, their food-to-go purchases are likely to become more treat-led, opting for more premium offerings and so driving higher transactions.
Although we’re still not sure what the ‘new normal’ will look like when it comes to home/office balance, we do know to expect a more flexible working schedule. This change will drive footfall away from the cities and into the suburban areas. As a result, we can expect to see businesses going to where their customers are, branching out into surrounding spaces to cater to the new, home-based workers.
According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, causing rates of weight-related illnesses such as diabetes to rise dramatically. It was found that there are risks of complications and higher death rates for those overweight when suffering with Covid-19. As a result, we’ve seen a surge in efforts to live healthier lives across most age groups. A 2020 survey conducted by FMCG Gurus – a market research company specialising in food – found that 80% of consumers worldwide indicated they were planning to eat and drink more healthily in 2021 as a direct result of COVID-19.
Not only are consumers demanding healthier options, governments are implementing new calorie count regulations and advertising restrictions of fast food products before 9pm. As a result, lighter options, superfoods and immunity boosting ingredients are set to grow in popularity, forcing the industry to update and adapt their offerings.
That being said, there has also been a huge drive for products that provide a sense of normality and familiarity. Convenient classics such as the meal deal, and Greggs sausage rolls will remain lunchtime staples for many too, though perhaps less frequently than before.
Research from Kantar exploring how Covid-19 has impacted our eating habits found that there has been a 245% year on year growth in spending on meal delivery in the UK. Cafes and restaurants were forced to expand their offering during lockdowns to include at-home dining options, a change which is set to be a part of Covid-19s legacy. However, they weren’t the only ones using technology to reach further and wider than ever before during lockdown.
Large retailers including Waitrose and Aldi now offer ‘small baskets’ on food delivery apps such as Deliveroo, meaning customers can access their food-to-go offering whether at home or in the office, without even having to leave their seat. This contactless approach to consumption not only elevates convenience dining to a whole new level, it also significantly opens up the potential customer base beyond typical lunchtime footfall. Post-pandemic, convenience will continue to play a key role in determining dining options for meal times throughout the day.
Food waste prevention
Although consumers may have tighter budgets post-Covid, that doesn’t mean they’re willing to compromise their values. Now more than ever, they’re environmentally and socially conscious, opting for brands and businesses who are visibly taking steps to make the world a better place as opposed to executing a tick box CSR exercise. Pledging to be and do better is one thing, but now acting on those promises is more important than ever, not only to align with customer values, but to also do your part in tackling the climate crisis.
One key area for businesses in the food industry should look to improve – both in terms of environmental and social consequences – is taking steps to reduce food waste. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year.
To combat this, we’ve seen a growing demand for creative but effective ways to tackle the food waste crisis. Initiatives where supermarkets, restaurants and retailers can offer products at a heavily discounted rate that would otherwise be discarded are exploding in popularity. For example, the app Too Good To Go, connects produce set for landfill from over 75,000 businesses to its 40.4million users worldwide, and so far have prevented over 80 million meals from going to waste.
There you have it, top trends to think about in the food-to-go market – but now what?
Adapting your offering to meet the changing needs of consumers as their tastes evolve, and tapping into new trends as they emerge, is key to staying at the forefront of the industry. From sourcing ingredients, to creating dishes that delight your customers, innovation is at the heart of what we do – see what our chefs can create for you and your customers, so they leave with full bellies and empty plates.
Explore our range of businesses in The Billington Group’s Food division and get in touch to start your food innovation journey today.