IGD | We've identified the key themes that will shape the food-to-go sector in 2018. Health, emotional engagement, and innovative locations are all trends set to develop over the next 12 months. Gavin Rothwell, our head of food-to-go, explains more about the opportunities for this dynamic market.

1. Health and wellness underpinning innovation

The likes of Sweetgreen (US), Cedele (Singapore), Chopped (Ireland), Exki (Belgium), Cojean (France) and several examples in the UK prove the increasing role of health in products eaten on the go. We’re seeing the expansion of healthier food-to-go ranges across the board. In the UK for example, Pret has opened many new customers’ minds to vegetarian lunches and breakfasts, while gluten-free options have become more core features in ranges.

We see more opportunities for development, with UK shoppers continuing to tell us they’d like a wider range of both vegetarian and free-from ranges in the food-to-go stores they visit. Our data shows nearly a third (30%) of food-to-go consumers are looking for more vegetarian options, 22% for more dairy-free choices and 20% for a larger gluten-free range.

2. Changing and expanding reasons to visit

UK retailer Waitrose spoke in late 2017 about a shift away from three fixed meals per day to four. This suggested change underpins a wider adjustment in how we eat, with more focus on fitting food around our lifestyles, rather than vice versa.

With this in mind, we’ve witnessed the expansion of gym and protein boxes at several food-to-go specialists in the past year. We’d expect both niche and mainstream operators to become more focused on this in 2018.

3. Even more locations and experimentation

Strategies for where stores are located vary by retailer or operator, with transit locations becoming even more attractive options for food-to-go specialists. But we’re increasingly seeing moves beyond this as workplaces, fitness centres, sports stadiums and festivals come more into food-to-go thinking.

The growing presence of street food in many markets is encouraging a more flexible approach to companies’ location strategies. It’s inspiring some to adapt their offer to a food truck format to take advantage of new opportunities. In the US, the likes of both Whole Foods Market and Walmart are even bringing food truck concepts in-store.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, we’re seeing the delivery app Rappi experiment with food delivery from street vendors. And in the UK a number of food-to-go players such as Subway and Greggs are testing delivery services to broaden their reach further.

4. Conveying the right balance of function and emotion

What many food-to-go specialists do well is create emotional engagement with shoppers. The experience is based on the quality of the product, but is determined by a widening array of factors, including product display, in-store décor, customer service and more.

We’ve seen some great experimentation around this from retailers over the past year, like Albert Heijn’s new counter-based bakery/deli concept in the Netherlands. Similarly, many of the stores we’ve seen in Ireland also display these qualities.

Looking ahead to 2018 we expect more retailers across more markets to follow this path, particularly through urban stores with a focus on convenience.

5. More new and unexpected partnerships

Businesses are increasingly looking for like-minded partners to enable them to develop in food-to-go. In the UK, for example, fit food specialist Crussh is collaborating with Sainsbury’s and Debenhams, while Benugo is working with John Lewis and EAT has recently entered an agreement with Compass and Debenhams. Italian restaurant chain Zizzi has also just opened its first pizza counter at Sainsbury’s.

We expect to see a growing number of partnerships like this across more markets in 2018. This could include additional food-to-go specialists looking to target more on-the-go customers, such as working with railway companies and airlines, following the example of M&S and British Airways. At the same time the idea of food-to-go hubs, inspired by retail space, shopping mall evolution and food halls, is an area we expect to see grow in 2018.

Data source: IGD ShopperVista Food-to-go shopper data, Q2 2017

Gavin Rothwell


Gavin Rothwell

Head of Food-to-Go and Retail Safaris