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The future of food-to-go: three key trends

Updated: May 26, 2020

It perhaps feels easier to list what's changed rather than what's stayed the same over the past few weeks, with many businesses shutting their doors, others pivoting, and a third group - including food retailers - who have been testing their supply chain capabilities to the limits.

And it's clear that there will be no return to type. Many previous ways of working will be redundant, at the very least in the short and medium term. For those in food-to-go, the future landscape looks different: for some it may be better, for others worse. But it does look undoubtedly different.

So the need to understand trends, opportunities and best practice is greater than ever. That's one of the reasons why next week, in conjunction with Rational, we'll be running what we hope will be the start of a series of webinars, to explore the future landscape. The first of these will take place on June 3, at 3pm UK time (4pm CET), with a focus on the lunch mission - you can sign up via the link here.

Making missions special

What will the new normal look like for food-to-go? Well, new rules will apply, literally and figuratively, in terms of the look and feel of stores as well as the mental processes that shoppers go through before opting in to a food-to-go mission.

To our minds, this will translate into a different shape to the food-to-go market. Less cash, more homeworking and potentially better developed culinary skills (for some at least) may well lead to more traditionally out of home meals being prepared at home.  So we'll likely need to work harder to get food-to-go sales in.

But the food-to-go market has been built on an ongoing favourable set of trends. Not all of these have disappeared with the arrival of covid-19. We will still ultimately need - and want - to eat and drink on the go. We've seen some fantastic innovation from across the food-to-go sector, in targeting different missions with creative and inspirational solutions, at what are generally affordable price points.

So the ability of food-to-go to act as an affordable treat is an important aspect going forward. And a combination of constrained capacities for restaurants and constrained budgets for consumers could help food-to-go businesses' prospects.

The growth of the micro store – taking food-to-go into new areas?

The edited shop, or microstore, is a really interesting trend to emerge from the current situation. Across retail in general, we've seen this in edited click & collect solutions – such as those ranges of basics offered by the likes of Auchan in France and Booths and Morrisons in the UK, or in retailers setting up core lines for delivery, as the likes of Co-op have done with Deliveroo, or Carrefour has done with Glovo. And in Canada, Grocery Neighbour is seeking to put a version of the microstore on wheels, to take it to different local communities. It links in with wider considerations around need states and choice – as consumers we don’t always need such an extensive choice as perhaps we once thought.  

From the food-to-go side, the flipside of this is the activity from the likes of Leon and Pure in the UK, and Tender Greens in the US. These are just some of the food-to-go businesses that have extended into new, grocery, ranges, whether it be in-store or for delivery. This creates an interesting competitive dynamic: will we see more food-to-go operators look to take purer convenience trade? Will convenience stores look to better meet more food-to-go missions? And will this create an opportunity for food-to-go to push into segments typically categorised as food-for-later, in particular a focus on evening meal solutions? Pret has just launched its macaroni cheese as a food-for-later line to cook at home. More similar moves are likely to follow. And much remains up for grabs.

Driving local relevance

Times of crisis often make us more aware of our surroundings and our neighbours. And coming out of this, it feels like consumers are increasingly recognising their communities will need their support more than ever.  Which looks set to translate into more desire to buy local. Several businesses have long had a focus on using local suppliers in every store - US salad chain Sweetgreen for example highlights the localness of each of its supplier farms in its stores. In Ireland Sprout & Co has bought its own farm to secure the localness of its supply, while the UK’s Honest Burger adapts its drinks (and specifically its beer) menu in every site to showcase local. We can expect more of this, and done well this will be rewarded by customer loyalty.

Want to find out more?

We'll explore these themes and many more on June 3 at our webinar. Click here to reserve your free place.


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