It’s fair to say that the food-to-go sector has been having a pretty good time of it of late with serious growth reported over the past five years. According to our colleagues at MCA Insight and HIM, the sector is set to be worth close to £23bn in 2022, accounting for almost a quarter of total eating out spending in the UK.
We have seen a plethora of new company initiatives and start-ups come into play in response to the continued growth, and Samworth Brothers, the British food manufacturer, is the latest to join the throng with a new food-to-go business and delivery service, Fresh Food For Now.
The venture boasts an extended range of brands and aims to be a complete food-to-go solution for retailers.
“Fresh Food For Now has been a year in the making and we’re now delivering products to around 5,000 retail and foodservice customers every week, ranging from anything from motorway services to garden centre cafes,” says Alastair Johns, head of brand and category at Fresh Food For Now.
“With the food-to-go sector experiencing so much growth, and with customer trends as they are today, this new expansion will act as a starting point so as to make inroads and grow in the category.”
Changing customer perceptions
Fresh Food For Now is something of a brand repositioning for Samworth Brothers, according to Johns. It takes the company’s existing delivery of Ginsters and extends it to the manufacturer’s other products, responding to a customer desire for greater diversity.
“Around 30 years ago, when the likes of Tesco started to do the first retail food-to-go, you had your safe British staple sandwiches, like ham and cheese, and chicken and bacon. Consumers in the UK are creatures of habit as these traditionally popular choices haven’t gone away. Of the 150 products we sell, the top 20 or so are full of safe British favourites. What has changed, though, is the consumer’s need for choice,” explains Johns.
“In that respect, the consumer has moved on rapidly over the last five years or so – especially younger people who are influenced by the likes of Pret a Manger and artisan sandwich shops. These choices and flavours eventually find their way into retail.”
He adds that there is a real need for wide-reaching solutions with food-to-go, as the potential clientele cover a broad range.
“There are different challenges when comparing independent retailers to major ones, say a motorway service station and a Sainsbury’s. Consumers are used to a wider selection of choice and meal deals in the latter while there are more ‘distress purchases’ on the road where consumers do their best with a smaller selection.”
Sushi, halal and vegan
Samworth Brothers has been looking at several specific dishes and diets to focus on for its food-to-go offering – some of which bring new challenges to manufacturers, according to Johns.
“Sushi is a good example of this. The market is going strong but there is still a bit of a barrier in food-to-go as people want as fresh as possible with sushi. It’s about trust with the product and it is an important part of our range, as is halal, which is a bit more region specific but still crucial."
The rise of plant-based diets has also led Samworth Brothers to develop meat-free NPD – the company recently unveiled a Ginsters vegan version of its Moroccan vegetable pasty.
“Our own brand, Honest Crust, produces vegan products and we supply a lot of student unions as there is plenty of movement with veganism around universities and students,” adds Johns.
“We recently did some research on the UK veganism and we found that still only around 1% of UK consumers identify as absolutely vegan. But there is a real market for those consciously looking to reduce their meat consumption.”
And what of the hot food retail market?
“Around 50% of all food-to-go is consumed hot and, in response to that, we’ve launched cheese-topped toasties and are actively helping with hot food-to-go solutions for retailers with the likes of hot hold ovens.
“We’ve plenty in the pipeline and we’re looking to extend the range next year, which might include a wider vegan selection and further impetus on hot snacking.”