It's a booming sector fuelling our busy lives. Richard McComb reports on new developments in the ‘grab and go' market
Consumers want "food on the move" at all hours of the day and the pressure is on to innovate with tasty products and seductive displays. According to IGD ShopperVista, there are five different occasions, or "missions," for
food-to-go shoppers: breakfast, drinks, lunch, snacks and leisure. The statistics are compelling. The company's survey found that 28% of the UK's adult population has bought a product on the go for breakfast in the past month - a figure that rises to 70% for lunch. Product choice, quality and taste are big drivers.
Country Choice, a supplier of in-store bakery and retail foodservice products, estimates annual growth of 3% in grab-and-go food as consumers move away from formal eating at home and at sit-down restaurants.
Neil Lindsell, Country Choice concepts development manager for foodservice, says: "When it comes to grab-and-go, consumers are becoming more and more switched on and, although value for money remains their prime consideration, they will pay more for a quality product."
Promotions such as meal deals have an increasingly important role to play, with operators discounting coffee sales, for example, if the customer purchases a food item.
Street food requires serving a high volume of customers quickly and Country Choice uses the same equipment across three concepts - Tuk Tuk, Pasta Pronto and Hudson's Gourmet Hot Dogs and Burgers - to allow operators to take advantage of the trend for pan-Asian, Italian, American and Mexican food.
"The beauty of all three concepts is that because they use the same equipment solution, all that changes is the easily removable branding and point of sales," says Lindsell.
Kerrymaid has developed a range of Mexican dishes that are ideal for the grab and go category, including burritos, tortillas and Mexican-style paella.
But traditional favourites, including burgers, also provide great sales opportunities. Jessica Lalor, brand development manager for Kerrymaid, says: "It is important for caterers to acknowledge new burger trends to extend
their on-the-go offering. Burger seasonings, toppings and buns are evolving into taste experiences from around the world, as flavours from Japan, Korea and the US hit the burger market in the UK."
Mission Foodservice identifies Mexican cuisine as one to watch for grab and go. Salsa verde, chilli con queso, and chimichurri are all "hot" on the Mexican scene, as are spices like chile powder (a blend of dried, powdered
chilli, cumin and oregano) or chipotle.
Mission's Super Soft wraps are flexible, foldable and easier to fill, making a perfect partner for Mexican cuisine. Refried beans, guacamole, salsa and cheese can be added to a range of meat and vegetarian fillings.
Carluccio's new concept, Via Carluccio's, has been launched in response to the food-to-go boom, open for breakfast through to afternoon snacks. Products include gluten-free Italian bean pots, packed with borlotti beans
and a choice of toppings, and porridge pots topped with blueberries.
Vegetarianism and "part-time" vegetarianism is shaping choices for food-to-go salads. Avocado, beetroot, cauliflower, falafel, chia seeds and spiralised veg are all popular according to Alistair Whitaker, category manager at Freshtime. Whitaker has identified double-digit year-on-year growth in grab and go salad with pasta-based products the main base ingredients with over 60% share. Main category growth is coming from the grains, rice and pulses ingredients sub-category.
Working lunches Changes in working patterns and dining habits means office workers are a key market. Jacqui Mee, director of food at Olive Catering Services, says: "In a busy office environment, we find that many people require meals that can be eaten on the go or at their desk. Making sure we supply convenient selections has become essential and caterers are moving past the typical offerings, such as cereal bars, to fresh and exciting alternatives - like ready-made granola pots - throughout the day."
The most popular types of baked goods differ from site to site and caterers need to tailor their offering. "Pastries are often seen as being more indulgent, but items such as croissants and pains au chocolat prove to be consistently popular. Not only are they enticing to passers-by, but the majority are handheld," says Mee.
Pan'Artisan produces a range of frozen, hand-finished, part- and fully-baked dough-based products that are ideal for the grab-and-go foodservice industry, including dough balls, pizza bases and speciality breads. New products include the Focaccia Romana, winner of the New Sandwich Product Award (bread category) at the Sammies 2016. It is created from simple dough, using a high-protein 00 Italian flour, producing a light, open structured bread that is easily digestible and stays fresher for longer.
The broader shift towards healthier products is evident in the world of convenience. Calories are part of the equation, but there is also demand for products that are gluten free, vegan or made with non-GMO ingredients.
One in every three people are now choosing food and drink which is 'free from'.
All Ten Acre hand-cooked crisps and popcorn are gluten, dairy, MSG and GMO free, as well as vegan, vegetarian, halal and kosher certified.
Beacon has seen the portable cereals category rise 6% year-on-year. Emma Warrington, senior food buyer, urges hotels to offer a breakfast menu for on-the-go guests. She says: "Consider investing in paper bags and takeaway cups with lids to cater to guests on the move. Another technique that is becoming increasingly popular for hotels is allowing guests to order their breakfast for collection on their way out."
And as a tea and coffee whitener, Pritchitts' Millac Maid Mini Pot (both full and half-fat) ticks the boxes for taste, hygiene, ambient shelf life and minimising wastage, with no need for an open milk jug.
Popular products Caffeine Limited has seen rising demand for quality coffee, iced coffees and flavoured coffees. "Self-service is popular where customers want serving quickly, but they still demand a good cup of coffee," says Justin Stockwell, Caffeine Limited's managing director. "Quality bean-to-cup machines are the ideal solution because they have simplicity designed in. However, it's important in self-serve situations to keep the machine and surrounding area spotless, otherwise customers will go elsewhere."
Soups are a popular, health-conscious convenience option and the New Covent Garden Soup Server offers a plug-and-go soup-dispensing system with touch-screen technology and automatic soup portion control. Soup can hold in the server for up to 12 hours. From a venue and event catering perspective, Amadeus's Marc Frankl says it is vital to consider the audience for grab-and-go products.
In response to visitor feedback, Birmingham's NEC introduced a deli range of sandwiches using artisan bread, made fresh on site daily and only sold on the day of production. Frankl says: "The profile of a show can affect the popularity of items. For example, during shows with a health or female bias our wrap range is extremely popular, but when there is a higher male attendance, our sub rolls or deli range becomes the more common choice."
Mick Steele, technical director for hot and cold food display specialist the Alan Nuttall Partnership, says caterers are increasingly requesting multi-functional counters to meet customers' needs. Nuttall's Flexeserve intelligent
chassis counter system allows caterers to "rejuvenate appeal by adding or removing units to suit trends and seasonality, refresh with interchangeable valance panels and re-configure in a straight line or with internal
or external angles and curves."
Cost-effective, functional, attractive and disposable packaging is also crucial in the grab and go sector. Go-pak's new Kraft Range, supplied by Parsley In Time, provides burger boxes, baguette trays, deli boxes and chip trays, all constructed from environmentally friendly, high-quality paper-board. International Paper Foodservice Europe offers a wide range of packaging solutions, including the new, plastic-free food bucket.
Hold&Go cups use Thermashield technology to create a double-walled paper cup that retains a cool feel even when filled with hot liquid. New products from labelling and eco-packaging experts Planglow include a compostable chip cone with a built in "beak" for sauces. But never bet against baguettes, warns Planglow marketing director Rachael Sawtell: "While sandwiches have lost a little ground, they still dominate the market and, if you sell baguette-based sandwiches, you should be on to a winner. In the past year alone, almost half of sandwiches sold in the UK were baguette-based."
Q&A: Daniel Bear, founder of Carve
Carve, launching in Tooley Street, London, is reinventing the traditional British carvery to offer "carvepots" with meat, fish and vegetarian options
How do you hook in new customers and get them to come back when there are so many grab-and-go options on the market? Whenever I've created a start-up, I've found the fastest way to get the cash registers ringing is forming relationships with local businesses, promoting yourself to them with a special offer. But even when you've garnered that new business, you've got to stay ahead.
It's crucial that your food offering is competitive and essentially your concept needs need to constantly punch above its weight. We'll change our menu every month, sometimes fortnightly, which is always difficult, but I think that really helps to keep customers coming back for more.
Customer expectations are rising all the time, so how do you guarantee quality in a grab-and-go environment? Your selection has to be cost-effective, and to make it so, you can't give customers too many choices. You'll quickly lose focus on quality and customers will stand there too long trying to decide between similar things. Ensuring a very tight, trusted management team is crucial. The fewer people that are involved in making decisions about the menu, the better. There is also the importance of sourcing the best products. You notice the difference and I think there's a delicate balance between having the very, very best and having value.
How do you balance the requirement to have fresh displays/produce with the financial need to keep waste to a minimum? The great thing about Carve is the sense of theatre it creates. It gives customers an opportunity to see the skill of our chefs and the chance to see and select the extravagant cut they love on display. It also means everything can be prepared ahead and roasted in small batches, as and when we actually need to fully achieve that sweet spot between display and waste.
How do you see the grab and go market developing? Cashless. It is predicted that by 2018, cash will make up less than 30% of all transactions across the retail sector.
Alan Nuttall Partnership www.nuttalls.co.uk
Caffeine Limited (distributes Schaerer and Gaggia) www.caffeineonline.co.uk
Country Choice www.countrychoice.co.uk
Mission Foodservice www.missionfoodservice.co.uk
New Covent Garden Soup Server www.rhhall.com
Olive Catering www.olive-catering.com
Parsley In Time www.parsleyintime.co.uk
Ten Acre www.tenacrecrisps.co.uk
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