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Growth through food halls - how food-to-go operators are taking advantage in London

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

We’ve seen strong development of food halls in London over recent years, creating new food & drink destinations and – ultimately – stretching the culinary exploration and global palate of their customers. And for food-to-go operators, the food hall environment provides many benefits, including crucially a footfall focused on buying and eating food.

Our safari programme regularly takes us into food halls across key European cities. Here are some of the concepts we've come across on our recent London visits that are using the food hall springboard as a route to expansion.

1. Rainbo

Rainbo is all about Japanese food , focused on bao, gyoza and katsu as its signature lines. Across many markets sushi has sparked an interest in Japanese food that we believe still has some way to run into other aspects of its culinary traditions. Rainbo now has four locations, in and around food halls/ food hall type locations. Its latest opening is at Leadenhall Market, but a key site on our recent safaris has been at Canary Wharf's Wharf Kitchen.

2. Argentinian Grill

Having recently opened its fifth location alongside Rainbo at Canary Wharf’s Wharf Kitchen, Argentinian Grill brings grilled meats and empanadas to a food-to-go environment. We see empanadas as a good opportunity in the food-to-go space – familiar look and feel to other products in this space (especially pasties in the UK) but yet in a more snackable format and able to hold different flavour profiles within it.

3. The Humble Crumble

The proposition behind the Humble Crumble is alluring. The personalisation is perhaps the key element, across fruits, toppings (crumble/granola) and accompaniments. While this maybe doesn’t quite push it into the territory of healthy, it does provide a healthier option as part of the mix. This is a concept that really impresses when seen in the flesh, ultimately it's a key example of an operator that creates its own missions.

4. Le Bab

You might know Le Bab for its flagship Maison Bab in Covent Garden, but it’s also present in selected food halls, including Market Halls at Canary Wharf and Spitalfields Market. Excellent product, impressive presentation, picking up on a broader growth trend around kebabs but very much positioning itself at the premium end of it.

So what can we read from this in terms of the evolution of the food-to-go market in London?

Here are our three key takeouts:

  • There’s a lot of opportunity. Food halls can act as the springboards for trends and also for businesses expanding in this space. A common theme across everything we’ve tried at the above operator is presentation of the finished product. For anyone involved in food proposition development, staying close to food hall evolution is important. More broadly, the wider food hall expansion plays neatly into food-to-go, with similarities between the mission and eating occasion.

  • Shifting footfall, missions and solutions remain a feature of the market. Workplaces may be settling now, but shifts continue, and for us, a key recent takeout has been the expansion of Canary Wharf as a leisure as well as a business destination. Food halls, including leisuretainment concepts such as FairGame, also play their part here in driving different types of footfall. The focus on sweating assets and creating new missions is an important one, with some distance to run. From a food hall perspective, events are a key opportunity - Eataly is perhaps a key example of this, but there are many others.

  • Pushing food-for-now towards food-for-later? Generally across Europe we still think of an either / or proposition, but we see scope for the same proposition deliver across both missions? What we’ve seen recently is the development of this journey by various sushi and Asian concession operators in supermarkets, and we already see some strong operations here from the likes of Exki and Foodmaker in Belgium, while in the US, this is already a core part of the thinking for several leading operators. The market continues to blur across traditional boundaries and here there’s an opportunity for food-to-go specialists as well as food retailers to expand here. Understanding the differentiated nature of the proposition is however key.

Want to find out more about us and how we can help you innovate and grow? Get in touch to find out more, or join us on one of our upcoming safaris in London or Paris - more details here.


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