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Food-to-go: top themes from 2023

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Ahead of our forthcoming 2024 How to win in food-to-go report, we look back at some of the key trends we’ve seen over 2023.


Value for money redefined


The UK is a great example here of how we’ve seen the market evolve. Premium tier meal deals in supermarkets and convenience is one aspect to this, but, increasingly, we’re seeing better propositions and better environments feed through into upgrades in the size of the opportunity. But there are a number of critical levers to get right here, for example across environment, facilities and customer service, alongside serving great, mission-focused, food & drink. A failing on one of these aspects can limit the overall commercial opportunity significantly.

Consideration of the full customer journey is therefore crucial. But several city centre food-to-go operators have spoken to us about how they've been able to increase transaction values - their core customers may still be working away from the office more than would have traditionally been the case, but when they do come in, if the wider platform and proposition is right, they may well be happy to spend more on meeting their food & drink to go needs.


Partnerships reimagined


We've been very encouraged by the upwards momentum we've seen, and there are numerous examples of success here now. The moves of Tesco, with Snowfox and Kelly Deli, and Sainsbury’s, with Boparan Restaurant Group, have perhaps been among the most eye-catching across Europe over the past year, but we’d also call out Albert Heijn in the Netherlands and Migros in Switzerland (specifically Basel) for their collaborations with Kaleido Salad Rolls and Babacous.  Even for those partnerships that don’t last the duration, there’s still a lot to learn in terms of ways of working to influence future opportunities here, so, where a match in cultures can be found, we’re advising many of our clients to consider this as a route to growth.


Operational expedience

A key theme here is the rollout of digital order screens, linked to the challenges around recruitment and increased labour costs across many markets. But this doesn’t mean team members are less important – in fact we believe more than ever that team members play a critical role in creating a great food-to-go experience. There doesn’t need to be extensive interaction. But where there is interaction, making it genuine and welcoming makes the difference between a one-off visit and repeat custom.

A further aspect of this is of course loyalty. We’ve seen Pret’s focus on Club Pret – and the introduction of dual pricing (with Club Pret members getting lower prices) – as a key move in the past year in the UK and in France. At the same time we've seen lower loyalty prices more prominently used on meal deals at the UK's leading food retailers. While across food-to-go specialists, none have yet gone as far as Pret, what’s very clear to us is that loyalty mechanics will play a greater role across the food-to-go sector going forward.


Supermarket upgrades


We’ve seen new and differentiated thinking come through across many new concepts over the past year. For example, SuperValu Swords Paviliions in Ireland, Plus Almere in the Netherlands and Kavanagh’s Belsize Park and Sainsbury’s Witney in the UK have stood out to us as pushing forward thinking, whether it be around layout, fresh prioritisation or maximising the value and opportunity of in-store production.  


Roadside momentum grows


Whether it be Applegreen working with M&S in Ireland, or UK chains Coco di Mama, Pret, GDK and Miss Millie’s Chicken entering new roadside locations, there have been some significant developments in this space over the past year. Many of our conversations and several of our study tours over the past year have focused on how to expand this opportunity across different European markets – expect better propositions across a variety of markets to feed through in the next 12 months.


Food-to-go in convenience: raising the bar


We’re not just talking about how 7-Eleven has added draft beer in selected outlets at Copenhagen Airport, but in fact how convenience concepts more broadly have improved and evolved, whether around proposition, mission focus, freshness, customer segmentation or sustainability. Highlights for us over the past year have included experiencing the continual improvements at the ever impressive 7-Eleven in Copenhagen and Albert Heijn to go in Amsterdam, the upgraded REWE To Go store in Cologne's Hohe Straße and the Italian focused hybrid convenience / food-to-go concept Sapori d’Italia from Coop in Zurich's main station.


Foodhalls are ever more pervasive in their influence


From a foodhall perspective, this year has been less about the new openings, and perhaps more about the benefits gained from trading through a full year uninterrupted by covid. But there’s a lot going on in this space, and we’re seeing more, diverse types of operators with space – whether in retail, leisure or travel environments, think more about the opportunities here. We’d expect more to come in 2024, not least as new food halls open in cities such as Bristol, Dublin and Paris.


If you’re interested in getting involved in our 2024 programme of insight safaris, breakfast briefings, workshops and market and trend deep dives, or need broader support with your food-to-go development strategy, get in touch with us -


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