The popularity of food-to-go (FTG) has never been greater, showing stronger growth than both the eating out market and food retail market over the last few years. Quick service restaurants and convenience stores across the country are learning to quickly adapt to the growing demands of the consumer. The three pillars of food-to-go – tasty, good value and convenient, no longer cut it for the hard working, tech savvy customer. Now it needs to be fresher, hotter, faster and healthier too.

With rising employment (currently over 31m), a growing population, average lunch breaks down to an average of 22 minutes and a real focus on a healthier lifestyle, it’s no wonder the forecast for FTG turnover in 2017 is over £20bn. And naturally, everyone wants a piece of the action – dine-in foodservice establishments, retail giants, convenience stores, QSRs and street food caterers are all in competition to get the FTG pound.

Busy lifestyles and less structured eating patterns mean all day offerings are also playing a big part in FTG.  Mealtimes and meal formats have blurred, resulting in a surge of snacking.  Over 60% (2.8bn) of FTG visits in 2016 were snack visits, the remaining 40% being meal visits. Little and often appears to be replacing the usual three square meals, which has opened up the market further.

Small start-ups are taking the opportunity head-on, offering what the consumer wants and partnering with third party delivery companies to maximise their reach. Squirrel, for example, have honed in on the consumer want for healthy living, creating a new all-day healthy food hangout that appeals to both males, females and the family market. Offering porridge, salads, warm grain bowls, as well as coffee, re-fillable drink stations and dried fruit and nut dispensers for customers to help themselves, they have set the bar high and are one of MCA’s ‘ones  to watch’.

The larger players are also applying strategic changes to make themselves more relevant to the consumer. KFC has introduced the Rice Box, helping to broaden their menu appeal for consumers looking for a lighter lunch. They have also addressed the home delivery movement, creating their own online ordering system with delivery ( as well as leveraging 3rd party delivery resources such as Deliveroo and Jinn. With delivery now an option, and the seemingly decreasing amount of ‘spare’ time consumers appear to have, they have also focused on driving their penetration in cities by operating small footprint stores in more accessible areas, servicing local customers with food-to-go (as opposed to eat-in) and servicing a wider footprint with delivered products. Smaller outlets + wider reach – win win.

The fast-paced world of food-to-go means it is essential to stay relevant in the market, ensuring food is fresh, hot, fast and healthy, as well as tasty, good value and convenient. Not a lot to ask! Exciting times for the FTG market and exciting times for consumers.

Source: MCA FTG Conference 2017