The M&C ReportPublic Relations Foodservice - Food on the Go Conference is of course highly regarded in the foodservice and hospitality industry as the go to source for the latest news on the eating out market. So with ‘food on the go’ currently driving the growth in this market with up to 2.8%, outstripping the market as a whole, which is growing at around 1% (according to Allegra Foodservice) it was little wonder M&C decided to stage its first ever ‘Food on the Go’ Conference. A sell-out, the conference boasted a line-up of high calibre speakers and a pretty impressive attendee list. The event was sponsored by Allegra Foodservice and Britvic Soft Drinks, set out to shine a light on this dynamic sector worth an estimated £20 billion (of a foodservice market estimated to be worth in total £83 billion, that’s 24% of the total foodservice market). With speakers from some of the biggest names in the business sharing their take on the current trends and challenges, there was a lot to take in but here’s my top food on the go take outs…

1) The Market (Allegra Foodservice) – Food on the go taps into key consumer drivers of ease and speed. But consumer expectations of food on the go are far higher than they used to be. From forecourts to motorway service areas (MSA) and of course the high street, consumers’ expectations are higher than ever. These days there are far more ‘aspirational gourmets’, ‘pragmatic foodies’ and ‘pleasure seekers’ around and it’s these consumers which food on the go concepts need to appeal to. Indeed, as much as convenience is a driver, menu boredom is also a factor and consumers will have a repertoire of brands they visit rather than complete brand loyalty. The challenge for food on the go brands is to create an offer consumers understand, buy-into and most importantly enjoy enough to queue for and keep coming back. Lunch and breakfast are on the rise with 50% of UK adults eating out for breakfast at least once a month which is great for the sector. As for trends, consumers don’t want ‘worthy’ healthy food but rather ‘wow’ food that’s healthy, premiumisation is here to stay, with informality, provenance and indulgence also playing their part, whilst not forgetting the ever present need to deliver perceived value for money. The good news? 81% of people think we’ll eat out more in 5 years’ time and with our ever hectic lifestyles this can only mean continued growth for the food on the go market. The bad news? Allegra reckons the pub sector will start stealing share as they bounce back after a tough few years.

2) Subway – With 2,000 sites in the UK and a plan to expand to 3,000 by 2020 Subway is growing at a staggering five new sites per week in the UK alone. Driven by its franchisee model with 20 regional development agents, Subway offers a flexible model of small footprint stores which has found success on the high street and ‘non-traditional’ sites, partnering up with the likes of Sodexo and Welcome Break. With 40% of sales from its low fat range and Chicken Teriyaki its top seller, Subway has long had a strong ‘health’ positioning and trade on its ‘Eat Fresh’ strapline. It has a loyal customer base and by offering both indulgence and health all prepared and personalised in front of the customer, it is well positioned to continue to do well in the food on the go market.

3) Fred’s Food Construction – This new entrant to the market has been backed by Tesco as we see the grocery giant moving further into the foodservice market. The branding is strong and the food does indeed look good, but the interesting thing about this brand is how Tesco has driven it to develop in a whole customer-centric way. The founders are tasked with addressing the feedback gleaned from on-site vox pops to ensure it works. This led to a complete menu overhaul not long after launch in July but it was the right move and their Philpott Lane store shows it has worked. As for the future, whether Fred’s Food Construction (styling based on the iconic shot of a worker taking his lunch break on a girder whilst Building the Rockefeller Centre) will remain partnered with Tesco – who knows? But with the success of its doughnuts it may be that the concept looks very different in the future – only time will tell!

4) Leon – Having been a trailblazer for ‘good for you’ food Leon has seen its competitive set multiply in recent years but still remains a strong player in the London market. Having built up the brand, John Vincent is evangelical about eating well and believes in food tasting good and doing you good. His passion for this issue extends beyond Leon into projects such as helping the government develop the School Food Plan. He comes across as keen to be a force for good, whether that’s paying fairly, fair rents, or helping to debunk the ‘Eat Well Plate’ as devised by the US Dept of Agriculture to promote carbs and thereby their business. This passion and drive has helped see Leon move from being branded ‘Food for Guardian reading lesbians’ to a wide customer base and celeb fans including Gordon Ramsey. As for the future John would like to see a world where Leon is more valuable than McDonalds – well, let’s see eh.

5) Pod – Pod sees itself as a lifestyle brand and with 23 stores in London and growing it seems to be a lifestyle that Londoner’s are buying into. Its launch in 2013 was well timed with the rise of foodie culture and films like Supersize Me highlighting the dangers of traditional fast food. Offering gluten free, wheat free, low fat, low salt and low calorie options it also understands it has to taste great, which is doubtless the key to Pod’s success to date. But as for its future, a partnership with Starbucks has seen Pod pop-up in three Starbucks stores, helping the corporate giant offer a credible healthy food concept. However, if Prêt decided to do hot food really well, Pod may be in danger as a smaller player. A more pressing worry and the one universal issue that may hinder Pod’s growth is the challenge of London rents as foodservice outlets see themselves priced out of the market by luxury brands. A challenge all high street operators are struggling with at the moment.

6) Vianet – These technology experts make the good point that often in foodservice there is lots of information and very little insight and good technology won’t make a bad process better. Technology both consumer facing and back of house is doubtless a huge opportunity in foodservice as operators move to take advantage of advances in technology. Currently there are 54 million contactless cards out there, 40 million transactions per month (triple that of a year ago). As for the future, will we be chipped like our cats? Who knows?

7) Welcome Break – The Chief Exec of Welcome Break heads up this MSA giant, with 18 million visitors per annum, £675 million food and beverage annual sales, 17 million cups of coffee per year and the most successful Christmas on record in 2014. Unsurprisingly 92% of visitors use the loo, whilst its fuel sales over recent years have fallen as Rod sees its business model becoming far less about fuel and far more about fuelling people. One site alone can do £400,000 in food sales during a week and coffee is a huge driver for business, which is why it partners with both Starbucks and Costa. Likewise when it comes to food Welcome Break is brand driven and has found Subway (a fell speaker) to be a great fit for the Welcome Break brand. And things are still changing, they say everything is cyclical and MSA seem to be just that as the full service restaurants that came out decades ago are now being reintroduced!

8) Tortilla – This US brand started in 2007 and is now over here in the UK. The second largest operator after Chipotle in the US, this Mexican concept is well timed to take advantage of the trend for Mexican food in the UK.  Nine sites opened last year in the UK and although it admits there is an education job to be done around eating burritos things are going well. Equally getting the right site at the right price is a challenge as rents rocket but once a site is up and in business they do good trade which generates its own problem of busy period queue times. Tortilla knows how important it is to keep people in the queue however and hand out margaritas and chips to keep them cheery and standing in line. It can see the dangers of other US concepts dropped into the US with a one size fits all approach such as their competitor Chipotle who’s interiors are a little utilitarian and only offer one size of burrito. Equally it sees the dangers with the 5 Guys model which has taken on huge overheads to get the right locations and has come under criticism for being overpriced.  As for the benefits of heading up this growing chain? Not having to deal with chefs (although he has a lot of friends who are!). And the future? All day dining as Tortilla ventures into the evening market with alcohol and sharing dishes.

9) Dunkin Donuts & Baskin Robins – This American giant is across the world in 60 countries with 19,000 Dunkin Donuts and 8,000 Baskin Robins, all run by franchisees. In the UK they have taken the decision to set-up in lower rent suburban areas and within Cineworld cinemas, but equally can be found in the O2 arena! The plan is to build the brand outside of London and then move into the metropolis. Globally they are known for their filter coffee (serving 1.8 billion cups a year) which drives Dunkin sales in the US, but in a UK market driven by espresso this has been a challenge. Currently in the UK, coffee is 30% of sales and donuts 60% for Dunkin Donuts whereas in the US the doughnuts only account for 8%. Whilst the Baskin model you would assume would be a seasonal sell around ice cream but in a UK joint franchise 20% of the sales in January were in ice-cream so maybe not! Will the brits embrace these classic US brands, well with the right franchisees and a sensible strategy towards location and scaled build, this is definitely one to watch.

10) MarketingMark McCulloch ex Head of Marketing for Prêt knows a thing or two about operator branding and had these eight pointers to build a successful brand in the food to go market: Have a product people will crave, Be sure of yourself, Find a way to genuinely do it differently, put customers first and opps last, create legends that people will pass on, believe in kindness not discount, take your time, PR is a by-product of doing something people will talk about. All good stuff from someone who has been there and done it!

11) Eat – Started 18 years ago by the McArthurs (a couple looking for healthier food on the high street), ‘Eat’ set out to offer homemade style food on the high street and based its menu around wholesome soup. But when Sarah Doyle started, the brand had lost its way in an increasingly competitive set and needed to retrench and go back to what made it great. The repositioning of the brand has resulted in a 10% like-for-like increase in sales. But soaring rents and the low barriers to entry mean that Eat is constantly facing challenges, but by having a strong understanding of what it is (and isn’t), Eat is in a good positon to move forward.

12) Greggs – Greggs started out as a bakers in Newcastle. Today it is one of the biggest players in the food on the go market but its meteoric growth has not been without the odd bump in the road. In the face of losing share Greggs set out a strategy ‘to be a winning brand in the food on the go market’ and started making changes. It experimented with different styles of store styling and ended with a blend of two (Moment & Bakery) with more seating, it took the bakery out of the stores and centralised it, simplified its business mode and regions, set-up workforce management and purchasing software systems, shut down poorly performing sites, slowed down the rate of openings, embraced technology with Greggs Reward card and created the new Greggs you can see today. The results? Record profits for 2015 – so it looks like it was all worthwhile!

13) Safari – After a day of great speakers and an interesting panel discussion touching topics such as rents and landlords, attracting and retaining staff in London, technology, venture capitalists and investment, own brand soft drinks and much more it was time to hit the road and see for ourselves what Soho had to offer in the way of Food on the Go! (Further blog to come – Watch this space!)

Well done to all involved at the M&C Report on pulling together a great day. Doubtless this will be the first of many!

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