We’ve covered the damage experienced by the food & beverage Industry in various articles over the past 16 months.
We’re now narrowing our focus now to the Food-to-Go sector, which was hit particularly hard due to both the nature of restrictions and the consumption patterns of F2G products.
Lunchtime meal deals during office hours, ‘on-the-go’ snacking and convenient breakfast options while commuting are all key situations which encouraged the sale of F2G items pre-COVID. During lockdown, travel restrictions and remote working, sales understandably plummeted as other trends saw a rise and foot-traffic in both cities and the suburbs declined massively.
This saw predictions of the sector being hit extremely hard by the pandemic, but as we have seen with all industries during this time, innovation, marketing and mitigating processes saw F2G reimagine itself and continue to find a route to the consumer during these times.
This article will take a closer look into changing consumption patterns of F2G products, innovations that Food-to-Go businesses have seized, as well as observing various opportunities for the sector moving forward.
Changing consumption patterns
As we briefly discussed, pre-Covid, the consumption of F2G products was structured around commuting, workers buying breakfast and lunch during working hours, and quick & easy snacking.
Restrictions saw a 46% decline of F2G sales in 2020. However, F2G businesses rethought the consumption patterns of their goods, noticed and reacted to home-cooking trends and re-marketed F2G to a consume-at-home audience.
Consumers could find meal kits in their local, easily-accessible convenience stores, and the sector repositioned itself through offering more traditional meal options.
A ‘Picnic in the park’ trend also saw the continued consumption of F2G products, with social distancing being adhered to whilst consumers found ways to socialise during the summer months. According to Lumina Intelligence, “21% of shoppers plan to purchase food to go to consume in a park in the future.“ (1)
Food-to-Go did not experience damage on levels that had been predicted as lockdown began, it simply repositioned itself through innovation and trend-analysis, with rapid responsiveness to these changing consumer demands and habits.
Innovation, opportunity & trends in F2G post-covid
With hospitality’s swift return, new opportunities that began to present themselves during lockdown are being brought into the spotlight. Retailers, convenience stores, and distributors, that have remained forward-thinking, have taken note of growing trends and the potential for growing sales through keeping one ear to the ground over the past 16 months.
Firstly, city centres will resume their position as dominant point of sales for F2G products, and F2G specialist convenience stores.
As population densities rise in urban areas, a real focus on 3 key points will need to be controlled to maximise sales and meet demand.
Maintaining and optimising stock and replenishment levels to ensure sales are maximised is essential, and those distributors and retailers that are using data and predictive analytics will be hitting these targets and ensuring insufficient stock levels are minimised whilst customer satisfaction is kept high. Along the same line as this optimisation is reducing wastage and returns, which also relies on accessing more information on sales records, trends and consumption patterns.
Photo by S'well on Unsplash
Along with this, a demand for more varied meal and snack options has been noted. This trend has been thrown into focus more so than before lockdown began, and again, those retailers that have planned and organised regular product line changes will be at the forefront of these developments in the sector.
Finally, with most food-to-go outlets understanding the above 2 needs, both an online and offline presence through signage, banners and advertisements to encourage impulse consumption will be a key driver of sales, especially with the increased competition found in urban areas.
It is suggested that “44% of consumers who purchase F2G on impulse in managed convenience rather than independents”, (2) and so the ease of access to a variety of retailers in city centres will require each retailer to offer some sort of unique selling proposition to the consumer.
Although a widespread return of inner-city foot traffic has occurred, it looks as though working from home will continue as a part of our working life, and so retailers and convenience stores in less urbanised areas will also be able to capitalise on this and a more balanced distribution of spend between cities and rural areas.
Greggs have released plans to expand and enter these rural areas, which means added competition and an even bigger emphasis on hitting the 3 keys we touched on earlier for retail outlets.
Summarising areas to focus on to maximise momentum of return of F2G
1) Availability of products
2) Optimising stocks and replenishment (which relies on a closer relationship 3) with local suppliers)
4) Greater product variation (including breakfast, snacking and dinner options)
5) Online/Offline marketing strategies
6) Controlling wastage and returns
With Food-to-Go predicting to make a full return by 2022, it is evident that the sector has been resilient, flexible and forward-thinking in strategies to continuously make sales and change the nature of how and when consumers buy these products.
We have seen meal deal options and innovations that have enabled consumers to have wider options to enjoy F2G products outside of the traditional means of consumption. Predictions that Food-to-Go will reach a value of £22.6bn by 2024” shows that the sector’s opportunities will only continue to grow moving forward.