Consumer demands for healthier options in restaurants, a surge in the number of vegan consumers and consumers choosing to cut down on the amount of meat they eat are among the themes dominating the foodservice industry in 2019. Operators and retailers are keen to adopt innovative ideas for the food-to-go market, which is set to be worth £23.4bn by 2024.

Ahead of the ‘lunch!’ trade show taking place in London later this month, Verdict Foodservice asked foodservice industry leaders, including Greggs, Sodexo and Leon, what some of the key trends are to look out for.

Tortilla head of food Martyn Clover said: “I think vegan/plant-based is still where things are at, but more from a flexitarian perspective of people looking to take days off meat or just generally reduce their meat consumption.”

McColl’s Retail Group head of convenience format & food to go Matt Cundrick said: “In convenience, the customer is picking up key high street trends around customisation, a focus on fresh, and split day parts. Breakfast is a massive growth area and will continue for some while yet. The one to watch is innovation in hot food-to-go. Lots of great new suppliers are breaking into the market, with high-quality fresh product; it’s very exciting times.”

Gregg’s customer director Hannah Squirrell said: “Healthier choices and being able to balance the Government/PHE targets, without compromising on great taste, quality and value. Changing dietary needs is also key and the growing trends around vegan/flexitarian/food intolerance etc. Strong offerings will evolve their digital proposition and launch new ways for customers to engage with them.”

Sodexo corporate services MD Nicola Morris said: “I think the wider environmental and sustainable concerns of customers are going to drive purchases towards brands that can demonstrate a real commitment towards a value-based offer. It might be in product and supply chain – where is it sourced, who grew it/produced it, what was there on the environment, did they get paid fairly – or linked to wider sustainability and ethical concerns – what packaging, what energy source, were the people that served me fairly paid and treated?”

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Crush head of food James Kidman said: “On-the-go snacking, especially with a protein hit, is what a lot of our customers are looking for. Smaller sizes and on-the-go formats are also growing as customers grab and go throughout the day. There’s been a lot of innovation in vegan – apparently one in four new products are vegan these days – but still a very tiny percentage of the population classify as vegan.”

Sourced Market managing director Scott MacDonald said: “I think it’s fairly split down the middle – healthy choice will continue to grow market share, but indulgence/treats will also continue to grow.”

Picnic brand manager Fatima Diez said: “I would definitely keep an eye on the growing influence of food tech in the industry and of course, on consumers’ views on it. Also, eating habits and dietary requirements are experiencing an interesting evolution not being only linked to health anymore, but to wider causes like social responsibility.”

Leon operations director Shereen Ritchie said: “The food industry has had a tumultuous 12 months. We’ve seen a lot of closures, takeovers and acquisitions. I think we’ll see a lot of food-to-go peers focusing on differentiation and their ‘USP’. Alongside this, we hope to see the continued rise in plant-based options and operators raising the game with their vegan ranges.”

MCA insights manager Katherine Prowse said: “I think there will be further tech-led innovation to emphasise brand’s convenience credentials. We have already seen Costa’s pre-ordering trial succeed and be rolled out, and I think we will see more of this and in newer ways. Another key trend will continue to be healthier and more sustainable food and drink products, brands that can communicate their sustainability credentials seamlessly, and be seen to be innovating in this area will be well placed to grow.

“In the next three to five years, I expect coffee shops to carry on with the challenge of fully establishing themselves as key food-to-go players. We are already seeing improved and expanded food offers at the leading brands and I expect coffee shops to develop this further and to engage in trends around hot food, bowl food and healthier plant-based meal solutions. A focus on the breakfast day-part will help operators tap into a growing area of the market.”

IGD head of food-to-go and senior retail insights manager Gavin Rothwell said: “Plant-based, health and sustainability are significant areas of focus now and going forward. But there’s so much going on beyond this. For example, we’re seeing a lot of activity around different locations. We’d expect this flexibility in locations will continue to grow – there are some great expansion opportunities out there where there’s a ready-made group of hungry and thirsty customers, whether it be in workplaces, travel locations or in a wide range of retail and leisure outlets. And linked to this, expect more new and different partnerships to emerge.

“The bar continues to rise in food-to-go, so growth is perhaps harder fought for now than previously. All of this creates an intriguing trading environment in food-to-go right now and a fascinating future.”