Grab-and-grow: how the pandemic has caused a surge of innovation in the food-to-go market

26 March 2021 by

Covid-19 has affected our businesses in myriad ways, but one positive it has brought is the rise and rise of the grab-and-go market. Anne Bruce discovers how to master hygiene, packaging, allergen labelling and more.

There has been a revolution in grab-and-go in hospitality in the last year – also known as the Covid-19 pandemic.

While lockdowns were in place, venues that remained open had to refocus on takeaway and food-to-go. The lessons learned over the last year and the new hygiene protocols in place mean that grab-and-go can be a comfort zone, even as eat-in becomes an option again.

But as they reopen, many outlets will be operating with reduced staff numbers and covers due to social distancing, and having to devote more time to cleaning. It's a good time to look at your grab-and-go offer and make sure it is as slick and lucrative as possible to allow focus to remain on the rest of the business.

The good news is that the grab-and-go opportunity has not stopped growing. Despite the impact of Covid-19, the food-to-go market remains robust.

Hygiene focus

One issue that suppliers highlight is that hygiene is top priority in grab-and-go packaging. The Bord Bia Indicators Barometer in October 2020 revealed some 44% of UK adults said that food and drink that is sealed and hasn't been touched is more important to them now than before the pandemic.

"We are seeing more demand from our customers for wrapped products to minimise handling in-store and to make food-to-go easier," says Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager UK and Ireland at bakery supplier Dawn Foods. With that in mind, all products in Dawn's new frozen vegan range are individually wrapped.

Dawn's vegan frozen muffins
Dawn's vegan frozen muffins

Scott Oakes, commercial manager at St Pierre, says because hygiene is a priority, the brand offers individually wrapped bakery snacks, with its On The Go range including butter croissants and millionaires waffles.

Operators must reassure customers with their grab-and-go offering, comments Helen Pomphrey, marketing director at Eat Real Snacks. "Pre-packaged meals and food-to-go within contract catering are now vitally important. People need the reassurance that their food is safe and secure and has been subject to only minimal handling."

"We expect to see increased demand for food-to-go items that are merchandised fully wrapped, such as our hot ‘Savour-It' range, because these products reduce the food- handling risk," reports Hannah Morter, manager, customer insight and category management at Country Choice.

Country Choice ‘steakless' pastry
Country Choice ‘steakless' pastry

The hands-off approach has also seen finger foods such as chicken strips repurposed as grab-and-go fillings. "We are seeing many customers adding finger food products that would normally form part of a sharing platter," says Nigel Parkes, commercial operations director at Creative Foods Europe. "These products require minimal preparation. In addition to reducing the handling risk, they have the added benefit of excellent portion control and consistency of finish."

Perfect packaging

Streamlining packaging choices also helps in the push for quick hygienic service in grab-and-go. Amipak director of communications and sustainability Daniel Schwitzer says: "Our quick-serve nested, stackable food packaging ranges take up less space and can save an operator valuable time.


"Outlets can reduce SKUs, saving space and often saving money, too. This also helps to reduce the amount of material going to waste streams."

Sustainability remains a key consumer concern, comments Nick Burton, managing director at Celebration Packaging. "Many have thought that the environmental agenda has gone away as a result of Covid-19, but many customers still make purchasing decisions around sustainability issues."

Celebration Packaging is adding more products made from sustainable materials, with such as bagasse, PLA, paper and wood to its range, he says.

Other environmentally friendly innovations include the AquaDot from EcoTensil, a range of plastic-free folding paperboard cutlery, which stores flat.

Allergen labelling

Tri-Star Packaging sales and marketing director Lee Richards says that the introduction of Natasha's Law in October (see below) on pre-packed food for direct sale will expand the remit of packaging further to help give allergy sufferers confidence in the food they buy.

This legislation requires pre-packed food to contain comprehensive allergen advice, and will increase the desirability of products cooked and served in pack.

With these changes afoot, investing in a high-quality labelling and barcode system is well advised, says Chris Lyons, group managing director at Systopia: "Manually labelling items is labour-intensive. If the labelling is not right, products might be priced incorrectly or may not scan properly."

Eat Real Lentil Chips
Eat Real Lentil Chips

With the right technology in place, labels can be linked to an app so users can earn loyalty points and pay by scanning the barcode on their phone, encouraging repeat business, he says. The use of ordering apps has grown throughout the pandemic, with customers now accustomed to using to these systems.

The right range

So, how do you grab your customers attention with your range when they arrive? Sourcing quality products that can be served quickly and utilised in different ways on a menu is a must, says Alison Smith, global product developer for Mars Foodservice: "Soggy sarnies are no longer enough, which is why adding a global twist to grab-and-go menus is sure to prove popular."

Mars Foodservice chicken fajita wrap
Mars Foodservice chicken fajita wrap

Operators are well-advised to focus on small, stand-out ranges to ensure waste is minimised, and availability and sales maximised, says Ali O'Brien, commercial director at the Flava People, citing Yo! and Panku Streetfood's to-go ranges as an exemplar.

Meanwhile Joel Carr, development chef at Young's Foodservice, recommends burgers which can be customised. "Offering different variations is the best way to make menus more appealing and ensure they keep up with the grab-and-go competition."

Oakes at St Pierre agrees and suggests operators consider the margin potential of premium burgers and hot dogs using high-quality toppings and breads such as St Pierre's brioche range.

The vegan eating trend also needs to be reflected, with Deliveroo recently reporting that orders of plant-based dishes were up 163% on the previous year in the past 12 months.

Central Foods' KaterVeg vegan meatball sub roll
Central Foods' KaterVeg vegan meatball sub roll

Versatile products that go down well with meat-reducers are key to efficiency, says Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods. He comments: "We've been working on new plant-based items that are ideal for hot grab-and-go options, such as our new KaterVeg sausages, burgers and meatballs. They work across all menus and serving platforms, including grab-and-go, eat-in, takeaway, click and collect and delivery."

Parkes at Creative Foods agrees that direct alternatives to meat, including favourites such as burgers and pulled pork, are a sure win for flexitarians, however Morter at Country Choice says marketing of these products is vital: "Terms such as ‘meat-free' are more appealing to non-vegans than ‘vegan' and therefore increase product appeal."

La Lorraine
La Lorraine

While some customers will be looking for healthier options as part of a health regime post-lockdown, many will be looking for a treat. Kevin Hughes, general manager UK and Ireland at La Lorraine Bakery Group, cites Mintel's May 2019 Consumer Snacking report: "Around 24% of consumers were buying cakes, cake bars and sweet baked goods as a form of dessert – an opportunity to promote ‘buy now, eat later'."

Hughes says that doughnuts can be a winning option, with La Lorraine's Donut Worry Be Happy range available frozen in foodservice packs of 12 or 48.


The take-home-for-later trend is one to which Eurest has responded, says Ryan Holmes, culinary director. "Using the Time2Eat app, customers can now order dishes from our new heat-at-home brand, Prepped," he explains.

With new trends to cash in on and social distancing leading to space constraints in eat-in settings, encouraging customers to grab-and-go makes more sense than ever.

Free Allergens Webinar

Join The Caterer's virtual Allergens Webinar on 31 March to learn how Natasha's Law will impact your business and what preparations are required to ensure you are ready for the changes in food labelling.

For the full agenda and to reserve your free place, click here.



Bord Bia

Celebration Packaging

Central Foods

Country Choice

Creative Foods

Dawn Foods

Eat Real Snacks


The Flava People

La Lorraine


St Pierre



Youngs Foodservice

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