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Unlocking the future of food-to-go: key themes from our webinar

Our latest webinar, hosted by Food Futures Insights and RATIONAL, focused on some of the ways that food-to-go is set to change going forward. Dev Dhillon from Sodexo and Adam O’Connor from RATIONAL joined Gavin and Benjamin on the webinar to share their thoughts. Here are some of the key themes that emerged:

A new dynamic for urban centres

A legacy of the lockdown appears set to be more homeworking for more people, as employers’ approaches and policies evolve at pace. And right now, we’re witnessing caution on the part of many consumers about returning to city centres when they are not compelled to do so. So a quick look at footfall right now shows major city centres continuing to struggle.

Less footfall from workers makes things tough for city centres, and the businesses located in them, as well as for those located in transport hubs, which right now look a long way from regaining the previous peaks in traffic. So with this in mind, there’s a growing need for city centres to drive footfall in new ways, and big implications if they don’t.

A key route to do this is to think differently about the purpose of city centres. And a reinvention of city centres around the principle of leisure hubs holds clear potential to fill at least part of the void. Done well, this will create more reasons to visit more often, and at what are currently off peak times.

With implications for food-to-go…

Take London as an example. The variety of concepts and choice on offer is central London – and in particular in the city of London, is immense, and probably unrivalled. But less footfall means less business, and the breakfast and lunchtime peaks of the past will undoubtedly flatten off for many operators.

But while that in itself reduces the opportunity, it need not all be bad news. A greater focus on cities as leisure hubs provides increased scope to target different types of food-to-go and broader foodservice missions. Evening meals might be one, so too might any number of weekend occasions, perhaps with an adjusted menu and offer reflecting the different customer profile.

The environments for food-to-go are evolving

A different look and feel is something we’ve become increasingly accustomed to in some of our favourite food-to-go venues already. And the focus on more distinct missions may in turn accelerate this further, not least as operators start to consider more how they can appeal to consumers later in the day. And of course, food-to-go operators now have a much more digitally oriented heartbeat than previously. That doesn’t mean the future is entirely digital – it isn’t – but events have necessitated a rapid digital adoption curve over the past few months that has accelerated most operators’ understanding of how technology can support their business, both from a front and a back end perspective. It’s also helped firm up ideas of where they don’t need tech support.

A broader mission focus is already coming through

We are already seeing several interesting initiatives emerge across several different markets. Freshii, Freshly Chopped and Pret are among those operators who, in the past two weeks, have significantly amplified their focus on the evening meal opportunity, whether through delivery, take out, eat in or a combination of these. Menu development may well be needed for this, but often this is around changing the menu at the edges rather than full scale reinvention. And adaptability and flexibility are undoubtedly skillsets that across the sector have been able to develop over the past few months.

What will it take to win?

We took a number of conclusions here. Having sufficient points of difference in the proposition, and the ability to be flexible in the solutions on offer, came out as key elements. In particular, being able to target a combination of healthier and more indulgent missions stood out for the panel. And back this up with a good understanding of the changing nature of your consumer – and building a measure of how the changing environment continues to regularly reshape their hopes and aspirations – to create a strong platform for success.

To find out more about the Food Futures Insights and RATIONAL food-to-go insights series, and to catch up on any sessions you may have missed, visit the RATIONAL food-to-go hub here.


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