2019 Highlights

The next Food to go Conference will be taking place on 5 February 2020 at the Ham Yard Hotel, London. To be the first to hear about our 2020 programme, please register your interest by sending an email to events@mca-insight.com.

The food to go sector has grown its market share by 4.3 percentage points over the past decade, and now accounts for almost a quarter of the turnover for the total eating out market, according to the 2019 Food to go Market Report from MCA & HIM. The MCA Food to go Conference is always a sell-out, and the speaker line-up was stronger than ever in 2019, as we analysed growing opportunities, changes in consumer behaviour and trends, leading concepts and innovations with star potential.

Tweet: Farm Frites about the Food to go Conference 2019

The 2019 Food to go Conference addressed:


Food to go offerings in forecourts

UK consumers are “wedded to brands” when it comes to food to go in travel hub locations, John Diviney, CEO at Welcome Break told attendees. He explained that Irish forecourt business Applegreen, which acquired Welcome Break last year, was aggressively rolling out in the UK and US, but that whereas Applegreen’s proprietary brands were popular in Ireland, they fell flat when it launched them in the UK. He explained that consumers are very influenced by branded offers and see them as a “safe haven”.

Welcome Break - Success factors in food to goDiviney said that Applegreen views itself as a food business that sells fuel, rather than the other way round, and that the wider group is essentially a house of brands. “It’s all about finding the right brand for the right location. People plan their journeys around the stop. What are the key brands that we have that are going to convince that customer to call in?” he said. “We are now coming across brands in the US market that we think will work here, and vice versa. I think that will be a huge thing for us,” he added.

Diviney explained that the business is committed to offer a choice of healthy eating options, with an in-house Applegreen Food Technologist dedicated to quality and nutrition, and the introduction of the new food partner Freshii.

Welcome Break - Technology deploymentsThe business is also focused on developing technology at its forecourts and service stations, with the company looking at introducing self-order kiosks across various brands in 2019. “It creates extra purchase points and helps manage customer flows,” he explained. “For example, with Burger King we are restructuring how those units are laid out to make the kiosk the primary point of order.” He described that the internal space and the kitchens get redesigned in order to enable a much more efficient delivery and production system, which is key in delivering on their “speed promise” to customers. The business is also introducing facial recognition technology to its digital screens, to capture dwell time and the profile of people that are coming in. Diviney explained that the technology enables them to identify missed sales opportunities and would also be introduced to advertising screens so that they can understand more about their customers.

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Sustainability concerns

SRA action areasDeforestation is likely to be the big moral panic for 2019, according to Andrew Stephen, chief executive of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). He said that single-use plastics had been the big focus of 2018, in part down to the BBC documentary Blue Planet. This year, he revealed that a new series called Our Planet had the potential to wipe up another storm for the eating and drinking out sector. Launching on Netflix during Spring 2019, the programme, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, will “document and make the biggest link ever in the public consciousness between the food we eat and the places we love on earth,” said Stephen.

Stephen acknowledged there had been “a tremendous amount of progress” in the sector. However, he pointed out that there were some structural gaps in the way businesses were approaching the matter, with boards not putting these issues in their KPIs, and NPD teams lacking the skills and time to understand the 360-degree impact of their innovations. He explained that it was very easy for operators to appropriate the language of sustainability and to put a vegan dish on their menu. However, he urged operators to aim for a restorative business – one that leaves people and the land in a better place when it opens its doors.

The SRA sees three key areas of action for the sector: reducing food waste, serving more vegs and better meat, and reducing/recycling packaging. Stephen concluded:

Last year was a massive year of awareness, and 2019 needs to be a year of concerted action in the sector.

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Learnings from LEON’s expansion in the US

Glenn Edwards, managing director (USA) at LEON, took delegates through a video tour of the healthy fast-food chain’s first site in the US – in Washington DC – and explained the reasoning behind the move. He said that the ambition for the chain had always been for it to become a global food brand. The time felt right for the brand to expand across The Pond, as it had a really good footprint in the UK and a very good understanding of itself, he said.

Edwards recounted that when the news broke that LEON was to open its first store in the US, everyone assumed it would be in New York. However, he explained that the US is so much more than just that city. Upon combing the options, the company had found that DC had the most parallels with the London market. “There is good usage of the metro, people use cars but there isn’t a strong reliance on them, and there is a really strong and growing food culture”, he added.

Edwards kept returning to the following question: “If we were to start our business today, if this was the very first LEON, how would we handle it?” He explained that before launching in the US, the company had started to build a network of brands that had been through the experience already. It also organised a lot of pre-opening taste panels so as to avoid falling into the trap of the many stereotypes of what Americans would want from a LEON brand.

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Pressures and opportunities in food to go (industry panel)

Panel (morning)The level of competition in the food to go sector is the overriding challenge for operators, with market saturation a real possibility – this was the starting point of the discussion between Jon Lake, managing director, Chopstix Group; Mark Lilley, founder and CEO, Abokado; Paul Hopper, founder, HOP Vietnamese; and Andy Hulbert, head of corporate development – franchise, Warren’s Bakery.

Lake said it was important to retain some clear focus about your business, what you are about and where you are going, but while listening appropriately to external forces. Remaining relevant, however, is a challenge when there are often so many new and important trends, around sustainability and veganism for example, said Hopper. “The consumer is expecting you to react really quickly. The pace of change is relentless and we just have to do everything twice as hard, and as good, as we did a year ago and keep that pace up,” added Lilley.

As well as businesses being able to react instantly to trends, consumers are also looking to value. “I am seeing a lot of value-driven customers at the moment – not necessarily cheaper, but they want added value for whatever they are having,” noted Hulbert. “There has been an expectation of quick and cheap food – and it has got quicker.”

Despite the challenges, the panel agreed there were some bright spots on the horizon, with the calming of the property market a key one. Hulbert added that, looking at the evolution of the high street, we were going to see more in the way of collaborations, for example Costa stores opening in Next clothes stores:

I don’t see why more of us can’t get together, take on dual sites and actually share space with businesses that aren’t competing, but actually become a draw.

On the subject of technology, Hopper said he can see an evolution in click-and-collect ordering: “What is really interesting in my view, which is coming, is group ordering, whereby it changes the mindset of people in the office, and one person might do the round for everyone and it becomes a convenience.”

So, is food to go reaching a saturation point? MCA takes a deeper look at this question – please check the full article on www.mca‑insight.com.

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Allergen labelling trials at Pret A Manger

Pret A Manger, allergen information timelineFormer Food Standards Agency chief executive, Tim Smith, called for wholesale changes to the reporting of serious allergen-related incidents. Updating on his work chairing Pret’s food advisory panel, he said it was “completely unacceptable” that the company was only notified about the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating one of its baguettes, nine months after the incident. He called for a mandatory register of allergen related deaths and serious incidents, saying Public Health England’s notifiable diseases plan could easily be extended to include allergens.

Updating on the trials of full ingredient labelling on freshly made products at Pret, Smith said it had been well received by customers and would be rolled out across the estate. He insisted that full ingredient labelling, as opposed to precautionary warnings about possible allergens, was the only viable approach to ensuring customer safety. He added:

We cannot have a situation where two million people* feel locked out of simple, normal, everyday experiences – something as straightforward as going to a shop and buying lunch. It’s wrong for them and it’s bad for our businesses. I accept that there are significant operational challenges in implementing full ingredient information on all freshly made products. As someone who has worked in retail, regulation, supply and food to go, I just can’t see why the principles cannot be adopted in full. The good news is that technology will probably do our job for us in time.

*The estimated number of people with food allergies in the UK

Read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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Headline findings from the Food to go market report by MCA & HIM

Jill Livesey, HIM & MCA InsightThe food to go sector has grown its market share by 4.3 percentage points over the past decade, and now accounts for almost a quarter of the turnover for the total eating out market. This was one of the headline findings from the Food To Go Market Report 2019 by MCA and HIM, which was launched at the conference by Jill Livesey, managing director of MCA & HIM.

Highlighting some of the key findings from the report, she pointed out that the food to go segment had consistently increased its importance in the eating out market, as demand for value-led convenience continued to define the sector. She described food-to-go as “a really exciting place to be” and a star in the eating out market right now. Food to go is estimated to reach a value of £21.2bn in 2019, with its 3% growth outpacing the 1.8% forecast for the wider market. She explained that despite some slowdown, the food to go segment had been slightly immune to wider pressures in terms of visit frequency, thanks to food to go visits being typically lower-ticket occasions than eating out. She highlighted branded contemporary fast food operators, such as LEON, EAT and Pret A Manger, as growth drivers for the segment, but stressed that while convenience store grab-and-go remained the largest part of the food to go market, it was losing share to branded contemporary fast food, coffee shops and sandwich retailers.

She then went on to explain that breakfast was a massive growth driver in the segment (+10% occasions compared to 2015), and sandwiches were consistently amongst the top 3 items consumed at breakfast, lunch and snack times.

The Food To Go Market Report 2019 by MCA and HIM delves into consumer insights and growth opportunities for the sector as well as examines the key brands and consumer perception of them. For the first time, the 2019 report looks at how the grocery retail and out-of-home markets differ when it comes to food to go. Please email insight.enquiries@mca-insight.com to request full details on the report, including pricing information and the table of contents.

Read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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YO! Sushi’s kiosks with Tesco

Discussion with Richard Hodgson, YO! SushiRichard Hodgson, the chief executive of YO! Sushi, told delegates that he had identified 700 Tesco stores where the group could open a kiosk. The brand launched the partnership in October 2018 at two stores, and Hodgson said both sides had deliberately taken their time to ensure the offer was right. He stressed that the plan is to rollout in more stores, but at a pace that feels right.

Neil Brenson about the offer at YO! SushiHodgson explained that the reason he had chosen Tesco was its relative under-exposure to the sushi market at present and the scale of the opportunity. He added: “Waitrose has 5% of the grocery market in the UK but 50% of the sushi market. This is still a very immature and underdeveloped market and our belief is that there is a long way to go. Today, only one in five adults consume sushi. In the US, it’s one in three; in Canada, one in two. We think it will overtime become a popular category, and so we want to be with the biggest retailer.”

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Food to go concepts to watch

The founders of the below food to go concepts – which MCA believe will shape the market in years to come – took the stage to discuss their journey so far, what makes them different and their future growth plans.

The story of Food to go concept Polu Poke, by Celia FarrarThe story of Food to go concept Polu Poke, by Celia FarrarCelia Farrar, founder of the Hawaiian Pokē bowls concept Polu Poke, recounted the birth of the concept, when in 2013, she went to Venice Beach in LA, and fell in love with pots of marinated fish called Poke, which had none of the flavours and colours of the foods she could have in the UK. Afer “sitting on the idea for a couple of years”, she took the plunge and started selling Poke, starting with street food markets in London. Festivals were also a great platform for the fledgling brand and are still a route to market to this day. Soho House and Selfridges took notice, so the brand popped up at theirs. The business now has two sites in London – “serving flavour-first food using only the most sustainably sourced ingredients” – and has released a cookbook.

ZabardastNext up was Neelofar Khan, founder of Zabardast, a concept which was born out of the vision to establish the brand as the go-to destination for healthy, homemade and fresh Indian food. The offer includes wraps, salads and a Biryani bar. She explained that Zabardast is actually an amalgamation of two Persian words meaning “awesome”. The business now operates from a central kitchen in London and supplies several sites across the capital. She shared that the business had ambitious growth plans, aiming to double their turnover in the next 12 months, improve their Hub & Spoke model, establish new corporate locations and secure development partners.

Future plans at Maple & CoThe concept behind Maple & Co, by Adria WuThe final food to go concept to watch presented at the conference was Maple & Co, a London-based healthy eating concept founded by Adria Wu. Canadian born and raised, Adria has worked and travelled around the world, starting her career in the corporate world. However, she got “bored”, she explained, and had always had an insatiable hunger for cooking. She then decided to study at Le Cordon Bleu in London and the College of Naturopathic Medicine. She opened the first London Maple eatery in 2015 in the heart of Fitzrovia, with several sites to follow, all named after their location (e.g. “Maple & FITZ”, “Maple & KING’S”, etc.) With a real focus on healthy eating, the food is designed around “The Balanced Lunch Box Concept”, balancing complex carbs, proteins, vegs and fruits. It is served alongside cold-pressed juices, smoothies, healthy breakfasts and guilt-free treats from their gluten-free bakery. Adria emphasised that everything she does, including her food, needs to make her and people happy.
As for the future, Adria explained she wants to simplify ordering, leverage AI machine learning, foster communities and shape the image of “good food” based on advocacy, responsibility and transparency.

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EAT.’s journey for success

Andrew Walker, EAT.EAT chief executive Andrew Walker updated delegates on the progress of the brand’s turnaround plan, citing “service, food quality and ambience” as the three core pillars of the refresh programme. He said the first two pillars had now been overhauled, explaining that the introduction of hot cabinets had improved the speed of service – which also impacted both hot and cold food sales. In addition, the counters had been redesigned to incorporate coffee into the main ordering process.

Meanwhile, executive chef, Arnaud Kaziewicz, had led an overhaul of the menu, which had seen all product lines relaunched over the past 15 months across the c80-strong estate. Walker said that while healthy eating remained a focus of EAT’s innovation, the trend had to be considered in context. He explained that about 30% of their range could be classed as healthy, but that it represented only about 15% of sales. He recognised it as an important trend, but that consumers’ taste for more indulgent food also needed to be addressed. He thus described the new menu as both millennial-friendly – with healthy eating options such as protein bowls and quinoa salads – and indulgent – with treats such as a Yorkshire pudding wrap filled with mashed potatoes and sausage.

With regards to the final pillar – ambience – Walker said that the roll out of a fresh look across the estate was the target over the next three years. He said that the changes already implemented had delivered year-on-year sales uplifts of 20% in the final week of January 2019.

There is still a lot of work to do on the look of the stores. But once we get that ambience right, then I think we will be able to take on anyone.

Read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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Want more insights from the Food to go Conference?

The highlights of the 2018 conference are still available here.

The next Food to go Conference will be taking place on 5 February 2020 at the Ham Yard Hotel, London. To be the first to hear about our 2020 programme, please register your interest by sending an email to events@mca-insight.com.