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London food-to-go: the new landscape

Updated: Sep 6

Ahead of the return of our safaris to London later this month, we explore some of the changes that have taken place and some of the latest key format developments.



A changed landscape


The shift to working from home hit London as a whole hard, and food-to-go – along with wider hospitality – suffered. So, since the latest reopening, it’s been all about a rebuild. It’s been very sad to see many outlets and operators close their doors permanently, with many great concepts cut off far too prematurely. But what has been encouraging is how many food-to-go operators have realigned and refocused to emerge from covid. While sales are not at the same level as pre covid, they have rebounded well in some areas, and the broader diversification strategies that many have employed should pay longer term dividends.


New players have entered from both convenience and food-to-go.


Amazon Fresh may have taken many of the headlines from the retail side, with a forward looking interpretation of a UK multiples’ convenience store combined with highly effective technology, but on the purer food-to-go side, we’ve seen new arrivals such as Atis, very much inspired by the success of Sweetgreen in the US. And of course, earlier this year Eataly opened its doors in the UK for the first time, an emporium and celebration of all Italian food & drink.


While established players have launched new concepts


Coop on the go at Baker Street is one such example, not its first on the go store but an important iteration, not least through the addition of a standalone barista coffee pod alongside the main store. Another favourite of our London safari programme, Planet Organic, has significantly grown its footprint over the past 18 months, acquiring organic retailer As Nature Intended in early 2020, and since then converting stores to the Planet Organic proposition in locations such as Chiswick, Ealing and Liverpool Street.


As pre covid concepts have been refined and expanded


M&S has long been a reference point for UK food retail, and this has continued through both new range developments and also the rollout of its new fresh format. Clapham was the first London iteration of this, but it’s now been joined by others in London – Hackney being the latest – and across the whole of the UK.


Morrisons meanwhile launched its first Market Kitchen prototype in 2019 at Canning Town. The concept has however evolved significantly since then, incorporating more of a street food style look and feel. This concept has now launched in several sites across the UK, including London’s Wood Green, while it’s also been retrofitted into the Canning Town store. .


And new partnerships have emerged...


Pret at Tesco and Caffé Carluccio's at Sainsbury's are among the highest profile to date, and this is an area ripe for further development. Across the UK, ASDA has been rolling out new partnerships with the likes of Panku, and benefiting from agreements made by its new owners to add Cinnabon and Sbarro pizza into its Walsall store. Pret has also moved onto the forecourt, opening its first site in collaboration with MFG at Southgate, North London, while Leon, now owned by EG Group, will soon make its forecourt debut, in a drive thru format, in West Yorkshire.


Food halls are returning to life and pushing new boundaries


While covid hit food halls hard, we’re now witnessing a renewed upturn in this trend, with expansion now in many locations away from major cities – Crewe and Doncaster for example have both had recent openings. At the same time, major development has continued in major cities, Edinburgh’s Bonnie & Wild opened this summer, with a focus on local ingredients and specialities. And London remains an excellent location in which to explore the food hall trend – Boxpark, Mercato Metropolitano and Market Hall are all great places to start the journey.


Come and see the new landscape for yourself…


Our safaris are deigned to help you understand the latest trends and inlock innovation to take back to your business. Our next session takes place in London on September 22. You can find out more and reserve your place here.