The ‘Food to Go’ Market

The ‘food to go’ market has grown rapidly over the years and current figures put its value at somewhere between sixteen and twenty billion pounds per year. The market is generally considered to be made up of coffee specialists, quick service restaurants, ‘food to go’ specialists, convenience stores/forecourts and supermarkets.

Despite the size and the growth in the sector, Tesco recently closed its two London ‘food to go’ stores. These were seen as a direct assault on the sandwich market dominated by brands such as Pret a Manger.

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The market is ruled by the big players with all the major supermarkets and coffee chains having strong offerings. A look across the shelves in Marks and Spencer shows the innovation in this sector with everything from sushi to fresh coconuts complete with a ring pull tab and straw.  Vegan and vegetarian food is a significant part of the offering. The current advertising campaigns ‘Adventures in food’ and ‘Spirit of summer’ are certainly informing the offer with product development teams looking to the Americas for inspiration. This also tied in with the recent 2016 Olympics in Rio. Videos on the M&S website are highlighting heat, spice, smoke and sweet and these flavours are reflected in the products in the ‘food to go’ cabinets.

In London, the independent ‘food to go’ market is stronger than elsewhere in the country with reports showing an increase in the market share the independents are achieving against decreasing figures elsewhere in the country. Pod launched in London in 2005 and now has twenty-four stores across the capital selling ‘creative, innovative and healthy food’. They aim to provide their customers with ‘a more sustainable approach to their daily feasting’, sourcing where possible local seasonal foods, examples being milk from Soil Association accredited trade partners, British free range sausages and Rainforest Alliance certified coffee. The menu covers breakfast, hot lunches, salads, sandwiches, snacks, treats and drinks. Turkish scrambled eggs, berry boost porridge, pulled pork bibimbap, miso chicken noodle soup, Pod tabbouleh, protein boxes and super fruit energy bars give a feel for the range. Reading through the menu, the big difference between this and many of the bigger players is a reduced reliance on dough-based products._dsc2272-edit

Bristol based company Friska owned by Ed Brown and Griff Holland takes things a step further on the ethical front. All its meats are free range, its stores are powered with 100% renewable energy, a zero landfill policy is in place and the company have a three star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Innovative breakfast items include breakfast pots with poached free range eggs, baby spinach and a range of toppings that includes kale, avocado and tomato or chorizo and avocado. Hot pots, pho noodles, burritos and soups feature on the hot lunches. Coffee is from local roaster Clifton Coffee and a large range of chilled drinks are available. The company has just opened its first store outside of the Bristol area, Eleven Brindleyplace in Birmingham, bringing the total to eight.

food-to-go-fresh-montgomery-12-08-2016-1022-editA part of the ‘food to go’ market is street food, an area of the catering industry that has seen a real  growth over recent years. This growth is, to an extent, London-centric but it is by no means exclusive to the capital. This revolution has been supported by organisations such as British Street Food who launched the annual British Street Food Awards in 2009. Heats took place this year in four regions and the culmination is the final at the two day British Street Food festival in September. Judging is being undertaken by Xanthe Clay (President, Guild of Food Writers and Daily Telegraph Food Columnist), Simon Hulstone (Michelin-starred chef at The Elephant) and Richard Johnson (founder of the British Street Food Awards). A walk through Maltby Street market or any of the other similar venues will give an indication of the huge range and quality of food on offer.

Looking at the market as a whole you have to conclude that this is a hugely innovative sector, with both the chains and independents pushing the boundaries and investing in new product development. The value of the market and its continued growth must be a motivating factor but I suspect this is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation with the innovation being as responsible for the growth as the opposite.

Russell Brown
Creative About Cuisine

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