The opportunities travel hubs offer the foodservice market

The NPD Group predicts huge growth in this area, particularly as people seek out healthy, new and special options to eat.

13 August 2019
image credit: Getty Images

  • The value of the travel hub foodservice market increased by over 11% for the year ending June 2019, from £2.47bn to £2.75bn.
  • Visits were up from 576m to 619m, an increase of more than 7%. The travel hub foodservice market is already the same size in visit terms as the delivery sector was at the end of 2015.
  • Over the past three years, airports have seen the fastest growth in foodservice visits (31%), followed by motorway service stations (16%) – in contrast to foodservice operators located on Britain’s high streets and shopping centres.
  • In the 12 months to June 2019 high streets and shopping centres recorded a marginal decrease in visits (falling by 0.2% or 8m fewer visits).
  • Families and young adults are driving the growth in travel hub foodservice, especially in the 16-24 age group which registered a 20% increase in the last year. Visits by families with kids up to 15 years of age were up by 13%.
  • NPD predicts that the travel hub market could see the same kind of explosive growth as the delivery channel, with consumer spending potentially growing by as much as 25% to £3.44bn by 2022 thanks to the support of key trends.
  • Rail passenger journeys in quarter one of 2019 reached a record high of 1.76bn and international departures from UK airports set a new record of 118m in 2018.
  • There are over 11,000 travel hubs in the UK currently.
  • Consumers change some of their consumption habits when they are travelling Demand for traditional coffee or any kind of tea drops by around half, while the likelihood of buying dairy drinks or milk shakes nearly doubles, and consumers are more than three times as likely to buy energy/sport drinks.
  • The motivation to find something ‘light, balanced and healthy’ triggers at least 50% more visits than normal.
  • People are also 30% more likely to try ‘something different/new’ and 20% are more likely to satisfy a ‘special taste or craving’.
  • The number of deals and promotions in travel hub outlets is 64% higher than for the eat-out industry as a whole.
  • Snacking accounts for most of what we eat and drink when travelling followed by lunch.
  • Breakfast is a bigger occasion in travel hub locations too, accounting for around one in five visits, in contrast to one in eight visits seen in the wider foodservice industry. 
  • There is evidence that customers buying food and beverages at airports, motorway service stations, train stations and petrol forecourts like what they find. For the year ending June 2019, ratings of ‘excellent or very good’ for quality and taste of food have risen more within the travel hub sector than for the wider market, along with speed of service.


“These travel hubs are doing well not just because more people are travelling but also because the quality of food and beverages, as well as the experience, has improved,” said Guy Fielding, business development director (Foodservice) at The NPD Group. “Times have changed. Yes, there are still locations and outlets that clearly need to do better but travelling consumers are these days getting much more than they have ever done before in terms of service, variety and quality.”

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