Food to go market set for strong rebound in 2021

Photo: Thomas Hawk/

The UK food to go market declined by 45.5 per cent in 2020 as result of the coronavirus restrictions, but the sector is set for a strong comeback this year, a new study by Lumina Intelligence has predicted.

The 2021 UK Food To Go Market Report of the market researcher forecasts growth of 31.6 per cent to £15.3 billion in 2021, representing 72 per cent of its 2019 value, before wider recovery and growth will see the channel reaching a value of £22.6bn in 2024.

“Retail-led food to go channels that are less exposed to tight restrictions and offer low-ticket solutions are best placed to recover quicker,” commented Katherine Prowse, insight manager at Lumina Intelligence.

Convenience store grab and go, supermarket grab and go, sandwich & bakery and travel are all expected to recover more swiftly, to over 74 per cent of their pre-pandemic value in 2021.

Prowse added that operators and retailers will be forced to adapt as the sector rebounds in a changed environment.

“The continuation of home and hybrid work patterns for many and the rise in outdoor socialising will result in changes to the ways in which consumers will interact with food to go. Portable food to go solutions will strike appeal with consumers meeting friends/family in parks, whereas a shift in focus on food to ‘go home’, will provide a relevant solution to those home working,” she said.

The report identifies that some of the shorter-term challenges for the sector will evolve into longer term opportunities, spearheaded by shifts in the way that consumers interact with food to go.

Outdoor socialising is one such area as food to go will be well placed to capitalise on this occasion in the next few months with social restrictions easing. Over one in five (21%) of consumers say they are likely to purchase food to-go and eat it in a park in the future and this figure rises to 38 per cent for 18-24’s.

Food to ‘go home’ is also a particular focus, with 34 per cent of consumers are planning to work from home in the future, and over half of this proportion bullish in their preference for a high proportion of their workdays to be spent at home.

While coffee enjoyed a 50 per cent share of total drinks consumed over the last 4 months, this is set to increase as younger consumers are the most active on coffee walks, with almost one in four having picked up the habit of purchasing a hot drink to go when on a walk with a friend since March 2020.

The Top 10 food to go channels can look forward to a £1.1 billion sales opportunity between 2022 and 2024, the report added, with sandwich & bakery and coffee shop/café segments poised to lead in absolute terms.

Convenience store grab and go remains the largest food to go sub-channel but it’s contribution to growth will fall as it comes under increased pressure to compete with dedicated food to go specialists, the report noted.