Back in the day (circa 1985) food to go was an M&S sandwich or a Ginsters pasty from a petrol station. Today, as our lives get busier and our tastes more adventurous and eclectic, the food to go market has risen to the challenge. With street food, healthy choices and cuisines from around the world, matched with lightning fast service and convenient locations, food to go it seems is getting it right. Food to go really is delivering for the ever more so discerning consumer exactly how they want it, when they want it and where they want it. So you would be forgiven for imagining that the humble sandwich has been overtaken by some of the more glamourous new-comers, but you would be wrong. Despite the rise in wraps, salads, bagels, soup pots, porridge pots, curry pots, paninis, bento boxes, poke, burritos, sushi, burgers, and much more, sandwiches are still no.1. As they are the most popular lunchtime food product to go according to MCA Insight and their Food to go report.
This will of course be music to the ears of the British Sandwich & Food to go Association, who run British Sandwich Week every year and which happens to be next week (14th– 20th May), part of which is the British Sandwich Designer of the Year Final and the Sammies Awards. As a leading food and drink agency with a keen eye on the food to go market, from both the foodservice and convenience side, we were invited along to the British Sandwich Designer of the Year finals to spend a tough afternoon sampling some of the best sandwiches in the country (#toughjob).
With six sponsored categories and judging by a panel of industry experts including chef Theo Randall, the day kicked off with a market overview from Simon Stenning of MCA Insight. This was followed by finalists preparing and presenting a delicious array of gourmet sandwiches to the judges. These sarnies are a far cry from your standard cheese and pickle (not that there is anything wrong with cheese and pickle you understand). With artisan breads, stunning presentation and just about every ingredient you can imagine being used, this was indeed the height of sandwich making (all hosted beautifully, as ever, by Gethin Evans). The contestants had come through from regional heats to win their place in the final and numbered among them were independent deli’s and bakeries, as well as the big boys of the sandwich world like Greggs, Greencore, Adelie Foods and Two Sisters, all bringing their ‘A game’. (The only notable omission from the day was any gluten-free entries, prompting a call from one of the coeliac audience members to introduce it as a category in 2018 – watch this space).
These talented sandwich designers, sponsor brands and industry movers and shakers, are all part of a hugely dynamic and fast growing market, as according MCA Insight, the food to go market is estimated to be worth a staggering £20bn and is outstripping the rest of the market (both retail and foodservice) when it comes to growth, running at around 5%. Currently Britons eat a staggering 43,000 tonnes of chicken in sandwiches in a year (as chicken sandwiches account for 31% of all sandwiches), which is the same weight as 258 blue whales or 6,006 buses. But ham and egg have been closing in on chicken over the past year. The top three sandwich fillings are unsurprisingly chicken 43,000 tonnes, cheese 16,000 tonnes and ham 15,000 tonnes (with egg a close 4th at 14,000 tonnes). As for what constitutes a sandwich, the strict criteria is any form of bread with a filling – which leaves a lot of room for creativity. In fact only 57% of all commercially bought sandwiches are made using traditional square bread, with wraps accounting for 5% of all sandwiches in major retailers, paninis accounting for 2% and baguettes up at around 10%. (Source: British Sandwich Week)
The food to go market sits in an interesting position, spanning both traditional foodservice and retail convenience (much like ourselves). Interestingly MCA has identified that consumer missions tend to be split into convenience led ‘every day’ purchases in retail food to go and more treat focused missions in foodservice. However, that said, they have also identified that food to go is experiencing the ‘Martini effect’ of ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ with the most successful operators focusing on becoming fresher, faster and hotter. As the market continues to blur and consumers fail to differentiate between the world of convenience retail and foodservice, so we as an agency have reflected this trend, offering clients expert advice across both foodservice and convenience retail to help them maximise this growing opportunity and drive sales.
For more information on the food to go trend please see the following blogs: