The food-to-go category has exploded. According to recent research from IRN Magazine, at least 92% of retailers now have food-to-go offerings, be it hot or cold, with more than 35% saying that it accounts for 5% or more of their overall sales.
Interestingly, three quarters of the retailers surveyed said that they have made changes and improvements to their food-to-go offerings in the past year to prepare for predicted sales growth, with nearly half saying that finding the right offer for their customers is “the single biggest challenge for the year ahead”.
Meanwhile, the IGD, the grocery industry think tank, estimates that food-to-go sales in convenience, forecourts and other retail outlets will rise from £2.9bn in 2019 to £3.8bn in 2024. It also found that 41% of food-to-go shoppers would like a larger selection of hot products, beating all other food-to-go sectors including cold food (32%) and vegan (25%).
The growth of food-to-go is an industry-wide talking point, with our colleagues at The Grocer releasing their 2019 category report last week which reveals figures on consumer behaviour, market share and sector performance.
And while the majority of the report spells good news for the future of food-to-go, there are underlying stats that suggest that consumers’ financial fears are a real threat to the blossoming market.
Consumers, reads the report (citing Kantar research), spent an extra £720m across supermarket, convenience and out-of-home in the past year, but visited food-to-go aisles 32.5 million times less than in 2018. And when they did, they bought less, pushing total volume sales down by 1.1%.
This means that value growth has been entirely driven by price.
“Declining consumer confidence is putting pressure on household budgets, making shoppers more cautious about what they spend money on,” said Kantar analyst Taryn Ferguson. “That’s driving shoppers out of food to go.”
Cost conscious consumer habits have hit the food-to-go lunch arena hard with 5.9 million fewer purchases this year compared to 2018. Stats on sushi – which has the highest average food-to-go price at £5.29 per pack - are particularly shocking with sales dropping a massive 30.9%.
It comes as no surprise, then, that cheaper options and deals are really on the up.
Consumers vs lunch meal deals
- 5% buy a lunch meal deal every day
- 40% eat fewer lunch meal deals now than a year ago
- 57% of those buying fewer meal deals this year are doing so to save money
- 25% would be willing to spend up to £4.99 on a lunch meal deal
- 34% would pay more than £5 for a lunch meal deal if the products were high quality
Cheap meal? Deal.
Supermarkets enjoyed a £258m increase in food-to-go sales this year, were the only channel to increase their number of food-to-go trips (up 5%) and saw their food-to-go value sales grow 8.2%.
Meal deals and general promotions have played a big role in these stats with lunchtime meal deal occasions rising by an impressive 77.6% in the mults. More than a third of 2,100 shoppers surveyed in an exclusive poll for The Grocer said that they buy a meal deal at least once a week.
Of those polled, 29% said price was an important factor in the purchase (ahead of filling, flavour and variety).
Looking at the market as a whole, food-to-go trips including promotions grew 6.3% last year and are now worth 7% of the total market.
Cheap doesn’t always mean cheerful, however, as 34% of those respondents said they could be convinced to spend a fiver or more on a lunch deal if higher-quality products were included.
And, within the meal deal arena, innovation goes a long way.
“Providing something different is an increasingly important driver of sales,” continued Ferguson. “This year there were 26 million more food on-the-go lunches chosen because consumers were looking for a change compared with last year.”