UK convenience benefits from ‘food to go’ boom

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The food to go sector is one of the fastest growing convenience categories, with Britain’s high street benefiting to the tune of £36 million.

For the year ended 25 March 2017, snacks, sandwiches, salads and sushi purchase to go was up 6.6% for high street retailers – including Co-op Food, Tesco Express, Little Waitrose and Sainsbury’s Local.

This is according to IRI’s Convenience Market Place solution – which covers all UK supermarkets and convenience retailers including petrol forecourts.

It found that retailers have capitalised on the British shopper’s culture for convenience and expanded their ranges to include more innovative offerings than the lunch time sandwich.

The sector now sells more than 1.4 billion meals meaning that on average every person buys an average of 20 ‘food to go’ meals a year.

Across all retailers, sales of sandwiches grew by 3.8% to £1.4 billion and while they still account for most volume sales, it is baguettes, salads and sushi – all higher priced items – which are showing faster growth. Ready to eat salads for example grew 5.1% to £800 million while sales of sushi grew by 12% to £100 million.

According to IRI, sales of beverages and snacks across all convenience retailers are also growing. Single-serve soft drinks rose by 3.3% in sales value to just over £3 billion while single-serve salted snacks rose +0.4% to £0.7 billion.

Collectively food to go, drinks and snacks are worth £7 billion annually for all retailers.

However, independent convenience retailers who are more dependent on selling sandwiches, show much slower growth in food to go category than the multiple convenience retailers.

All convenience retailers grew value sales of food to go by 5% in the last year (value sales of £865 million) but this was driven by the high street retailers with growth of 6.6% (to £584 million) and petrol forecourts and travel outlets up 2.9% (to £185 million). Independent convenience retailers showed a decline in food to go sales of -0.4% (to £96 million).

“There is a huge opportunity for independent convenience retailers to work with their wholesale and buying group partners to identify a broader range of ‘food to go’ options. In this way they can capitalise on these changing consumer behaviours,” Martin Wood, Head of Strategic Retail Insight at IRI.