Today's consumers are strapped for time but always looking out for something special, so Anne Bruce explains how to adapt your grab-and-go offering to maintain your audience's attention
Picture-perfect food that has a feel-good factor, that is on-trend and served up in environmentally friendly packaging is the brief for 2019. The practicalities of making a profit could easily get lost in the excitement of this booming sector, but competition is fierce: consumers are spoilt for choice, with pubs, retailers, street food stalls, cafés, restaurants and delivery rivals vying for their money.
So, caterers need to bring their A game with the right mix of standard and aspirational grab-and-go options and the right merchandising and promotional approach to stand out from the competition.
V is for veg
One word on everyone's lips is, of course, the V word: vegan - or if not that, then certainly vegetarian. Plant-based core components, such as chickpeas, tofu and jackfruit patties, are not only cheaper than meat, but also tend to be lower in fat and higher in fibre than meat options, tapping into a health- conscious audience.
Pastries are a favourite in the grab-and-go market, and it is possible to adapt these options for a veggie crowd - the popularity of Greggs' recently launched vegan sausage roll is testament. Aryzta Food Solutions offers a spicy vegan chickpea roll as well as a full range of vegan viennoiserie.
Breakfast has with mileage to target meat-free options, says Laurence Tottingham, development chef at fresh produce supplier Oliver Kay, part of the Bidfresh group. Using vegetables such as beetroot and carrot to create vegan breakfast-style patties will appeal to customers looking for plant-based choices and is a very cost-effective way to make the most of seasonal produce, he recommends.
Developing appealing plant-based options can be a cost-effective, one-size-fits-all solution. Rob Owen, executive business development chef at independent delivered wholesale company Creed Foodservice, says: "It makes sense to use ingredients that appeal to meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike in order to cut down on both preparation time and having to buy in additional ingredients. Plant-based fillings are not only healthy, but will appeal to all kinds of consumer. Vegan grab-and-go options will also give more flexibility."
But it's vital to remember that although plant-based options may be a relief for your budget, not every veggie is on the hunt for a bargain. There is a growing interest in provenance, in particular when it comes to PDO varieties of cheese, with consumers willing to pay a little extra for premium products. Svitlana Binns, head of customer relationship management at Dairygold, suggests adding a few continental varieties of cheese to your grab-and-go range.
Quality over quantity
But it's not just dairy where consumers have become more discerning. Grab-and-go customers value the hallmarks of authenticity, comments Helen Marlton, customer and commercial partnership manager at the Real Soup Co. "While convenience is key, consumer perceptions of quality are what is driving this market. Our research findings support this, suggesting that 70% of consumers will pay more for a soup that has been freshly made."
Katy Hamblin, marketing manager of Pipers Crisps, says premium crisps can offer provenance credentials and are a good bet for operators. They are currently one of the best-performing types of snack, having almost doubled penetration in the on-trade in less than five years, she says, with a 30% price premium over 'standard' crisps according to CGA Trading Index figures.
Operators should frequently update their grab-and-go menu, providing the same variety customers would expect to see in a restaurant setting, adds Chris Beckley, managing director of foodservice company KFF. Restaurant trends such as Korean barbecue and Japanese teppanyaki are huge at the minute, but as Ben Bartlett, brand ambassador for Lion sauces, explains, it's not always necessary to whip out a konro grill to achieve a rich, smoky flavour, as ready-made sauces can be a great shortcut. Lion offers a range of barbecue sauces, including a Korean-style, Japanese teriyaki, hickory and maple, and bourbon Tennessee barbecue flavours.
"We've seen more and more snack pots and high-protein products, as well as flavour influences from Japanese, Latin American and south-east Asian cuisines," says Wayne Greensmith, head of category marketing at Adelie Foods, which offers an Urban Eats sandwich range that has incorporated world flavours such as chicken katsu, chipotle chickpea and avocado and hoisin duck.
Sandwiches and cold wraps feature in more than half of all food-to-go missions, according to IDG ShopperVista data (May 2019), so it's worth focusing on those staples and thinking how they can be innovated. Replacing standard sliced bread with Indian-inspired naan, dosas or roti is another way to add interest, or use waffles instead of bread in hot deli sandwiches.
Creed Foodservice agrees that the sandwich market can benefit from fusion ingredients, and recommends flavours such as citrus, ricotta, maple and lemongrass.
Lisa Johnson, sector marketing manager at Brakes, suggests that caterers go further: "Traditional, savoury favourites can be given a sweet twist using fruit, chocolate and cream - anyone for dim sum with a rhubarb and custard filling?"
Olive Catering Services is turning away from traditional Asian-European fusion to take a look at the rest of the world, as director of food Jacqui Mee explains: "We are finding that north African, Cuban and Mexican flavours are popular choices."
Keep it easy
Convenience, of course, remains a key driver of the grab-and-go sector, and an efficient kitchen and service operation is vital. Beckley commends that operators offer meals that don't put added pressure on their staff and are also easy for consumers to eat on the move, such as sausage rolls and burritos, which always prove popular. Protein smoothies and chia seed quinoa bars are examples of on-trend, cold grab-and-go options that can pre-prepared and added to breakfast and lunchtime menus, he suggests.
Some tips from suppliers for other cost-effective, flexible dishes include loaded chips with curry, cheese, seafood or seasoned vegetables. Nic Townsend, trade marketer, Farm Frites UK and Ireland, says: "Caterers can experiment with ingredients that they already have in the kitchen, creating dishes that are cost effective and boost profits."
e company also offers flavoured sprinkles that customers can use to premiumise and personalise their chips. Its Shake Your Fries sachets are available in Ibiza Hi, Mexican Hot or Texas BBQ spice.
Good things in small packages
For any sort of grab-and-go, packaging choice is vital. Customers need to be able to transport their food to wherever they plan to eat it without it dripping onto their clothes, or worse. No one wants loose edamame beans in their handbag.
"It's crucial for an operator to ensure that their food reaches the customer in perfect condition and excellent quality packaging is a necessity," says Clare Moulson, marketing executive at Huhtamaki UK.
h the packaging question comes the issue of sustainability, and the shift towards reusable cups, compostable cutlery and less plastic use. Satisfying consumers here is a challenge - particularly for operators within the cost sector who need to satisfy CSR policies and cost constraints, says John Young, sales and marketing director of KeCo Foodservice Packaging.
He says: "The real challenge is that despite there being such a lot of talk about being environmentally friendly, there are so many mixed messages - it's no surprise that operators are confused. This misinformation is largely because those with limited knowledge tend to make a lot of noise."
But maybe there is an even simpler solution if the food is going to be consumed immediately: "Grab-and-go options where the carrier is edible are a quick win. For example, wraps, tacos and products served in buns don't always need packaging."
As with so many things in life, so with grab-and-go, a simple solution is often the best.
Research from grocery charity IGD shows that dinnertime is a lucrative time to target the grab-and-go consumer. Its ShopperVista data from 1,000 people (IGD Food-to-go Shopper Update, May 2019) suggests that average food-to-go spend in the evening is £6.17, spend on breakfast is £3.36 and lunch (non-meal-deal) is £3.64. An average of £2.44 is spent on a drink and £2.71 on a snack. The average of all food-to-go transactions is £3.76.
AAK Foodservice (Lion Sauces) www.aakfoodservice.co.uk
Adelie Foods www.adeliefoods.co.uk
Aryzta Food Solutions UK www.aryzta.com
Creed Foodservice www.creedfoodservice.co.uk
Dairygold Food Ingredients www.dairygold.ie/food-ingredients
Farm Frites UK and Ireland www.farmfrites.com
Huhtamaki UK www.huhtamaki.com
KeCo Foodservice Packaging www.kecofsp.com
Olive Catering Services www.olive-catering.com
Oliver Kay www.oliverkayproduce.co.uk
Pipers Crisps www.piperscrisps.com
The Real Soup Co www.therealsoupcompany.com
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