Consumer habits are changing, with more people eating out, an expectation of quicker service and  trends towards sustainable eating and plant-based alternatives, among others. The food-to-go industry must adapt to the new style of eating.

Verdict Foodservice spoke with industry professionals about the future of the food-to-go industry and how it will respond to these demands.

Catering24 business manager Karen Bird said:

“The food-to-go industry is still expanding, with last year alone the industry rising to be worth over £25bn. Whereas many claim that the food-to-go industry may shrink as consumers are becoming more tight with budgets and are preparing their own food at home, I believe there are huge vertical trends that are actually only going to become more prevalent in the industry.

“One example of this is veganism, where we already are seeing a lot of food retailers jumping on this trend as the consumer becomes more interested in eco-conscious living. Additionally, research shows that consumers would rather buy hot food today then a sandwich, which we see with Gregg’s shaking up the convenience food-to-go industry with their vegan sausage roll. Others are going to have to follow suit, with a huge push on more variety and more focus on health than ever.”

PRESS London CEO and founder Ed Foy said:

“With food-to-go on the rise, consumers’ needs and desires are constantly changing as we get more advanced. As consumers are increasingly questioning where their food comes from, they’re looking for higher-quality produce and are happy to sacrifice a greater variety of offerings in return. Generally, we’re also becoming more specific in terms of dietary requirement – gluten-free, lactose-free and meat-free options are non-negotiable on food-to-go menus as more and more people restrict their intake of certain food options.

“It’s also no secret that, as consumers, we’re increasingly becoming more conscious of our contributions to climate change. Reducing emissions in terms of packaging and delivery, as well as choosing to go vegetarian or vegan, is going to continue to be a priority as big-hitters endlessly push the boundaries.

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“The barrier to this continued growth and improvement is that, in the UK, the customer does seem to be reluctant to spend more to get better. This seems to be less of the case in the US where people are happy to spend their bucks if they’re seeing a difference.”

Chef and author Bettina Campolucci Bordi said:

“I predict a steady increase in plant-based foods. Just like Greggs and their meat-free sausage roll, businesses are realising the buying power of branding something vegan. Also, a lot more accessible free-from foods as allergies and awareness continue to increase. On the other hand, I also predict artisan companies specialising in making just one thing but making it really well, going back to basics and enveloping sustainability into it. Waste not/sustainability will be the buzzwords of the future.”

Quadrant Hospitality CEO John Trueman said:

“The appetite for food-to-go is increasing every month, and it’s not difficult to see why. For a couple with a child to go out for dinner, they have to consider the cost of childcare and travel on top of their meal and drinks. With disposable income stretched, for many this is no longer a financially viable option.

“There are two views a restauranteur can take. One is that this trend is likely to mean an increased workload: the takeaway times peak at the same time as the restaurant, so why increase the pressure on the kitchen when there is likely to be an impact on the quality of the service each customer is receiving?

“The second is to embrace the food-to-go boom, on the basis that it will make them more money, and at the end of the month, when the delivery companies pay, their takings will rocket.

“It is a tough decision to make, but for the time being at least, it doesn’t look like the demand for food-to-go is likely to change, and restaurants need to be canny to weather the storm the industry is currently weathering.”

Leisure, food and drink and retail sector law firm TLT partner Pauline Cowie said:

The current big themes driving opportunities for growth are improving sustainability through environmental concerns, using technology to improve efficiencies and customer experience, optimising access to home delivery and adding more vegetarian and vegan menu options.

“From an operational perspective, more brands are embracing franchising as a low cost expansion model, particularly with the emergence of multi-brand and multi-site franchisees who have the resources and skills to set up new sites quickly and generate fast growth.

“Some of the biggest challenges facing the industry include labour shortages due to lack of available talent and reductions in European migration, staff retention issues and balancing the need to invest to meet consumer expectations and address changing lifestyle patterns and trends with protecting margins.

“Going forward there will be an increasing focus on healthy eating options personalising the consumer experience through use of technology and more menu flexibility, and brands aligning themselves to address consumer concerns about welfare, sustainability and the environment.”