Retailers both large and small are recognising the benefits of food to go and are finding ways to make their offer stand out. C-Store takes a look at what can be achieved, however big your footprint or finances
David and Pippa Heritage, Barns Green Village Stores, Horsham, West Sussex
David and Pippa’s route in to food to go started almost by accident, with a deli counter. “We really wanted a deli counter, and soon found that offering freshly- made sandwiches was a good way to use up leftover stock we wouldn’t be able to sell,” explains Pippa.
The idea initially developed to cut down on waste caught on and now workmen and those out on the road go out of their way to pop in for a made-to-order sarnie, picking up a coffee from the bean-to-cup Espresso Essential machine near the till and a chocolate bar for good measure. They are also enticed by a meal deal offering coffee for £1 with any sandwich or sausage roll, a saving of 50p.
A hot food-to-go counter supplied by Country Choice is also proving popular, but the food to go doesn’t stop there. To keep the counter busy throughout the day the duo bake pizzas to go in the evenings. The 12inch frozen bases and fillings are supplied by Country Choice, with a menu of nine pizzas, named after local roads, served until 7.30pm.
While David says food to go may not account for the biggest share of store turnover, it certainly boosts footfall. He adds: “The more opportunity we have to get people through the door, the better.”
Big seller: fresh sandwiches
Rishi Madhani, Today’s Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire
As builders and tradesmen make up a fair proportion of Rishi’s customers, day-part planning for early mornings and lunchtimes are critical to success.
Rishi has worked with Cuisine de France to find the best location for his food-to-go offering and hot beverage machine which prove very popular with customers. “We wanted it in an area that kept the offering within the flow of the store, rather than customers having to go out of their way,” he says.
For retailers interested in food to go, he suggests starting small and working up.
Big seller: hot beverages
Conrad Davies, two Spar, two Eurospar stores in Wales
Conrad Davies puts his success in food to go down to installing franchise operations, where a big name brings in shoppers. It was a major decision to invest £250,000 in Subway, but he believes it has been worth it given that food to go makes up 10% of turnover across his four stores.
“You can’t underestimate the power of the brand,” says Conrad. “We have Subway in some of our stores and they’re a big name that attracts new customers. It’s also worked in hot beverages - when we installed a Costa machine, hot beverage sales increased five-fold.”
It’s not just about big brands, though. Conrad has been working with Country Choice to create room for more home-made fare. “Our fish finger sandwiches are popular as they’re not something you can get everywhere. We also make pies in store, which is a good way of dealing with waste,” he points out.
Conrad’s food-to-go section is busy right into the evening, but he acknowledges that making sure the section is turned around to meet all customers’ demands isn’t easy. “It takes real planning and dedicated staff to make sure it’s done properly,” he points out.
Big seller: Subway, fish finger sandwich
The Shop at Strood Green, Betchworth, Surrey
On a busy main road into the Surrey Hills town of Dorking, the Shop at Strood Green benefits from a high volume of passing trade, from Lycra-clad cyclists to white van men. Food to go accounts for just over 15% of the store’s total sales and it’s growing year on year as it expands its range.
Store staff used to make fresh sandwiches themselves, but in a bid to reduce the amount of filling material being wasted, it switched to buying them in late last year. Employee Sam Long (pictured) explains: “Freshness is key when offering food to go and we’d find that we’d often have odd bits of cucumber or salad left over, which wasn’t fresh enough to use in the sandwiches and so would get thrown away. Having them made for us has reduced wastage and saves us time.
“The bakery offers a wide range of fillings to keep things interesting. It’s important to offer something a little bit different on food to go as there is a Spar store less than a mile away and we need to have a point of difference from that.
“As a result, one of our most popular food-to-go lines is quiche. It’s made locally and passing traders can buy it by the slice for lunch or a mid- afternoon snack.
“In the winter we switch from quiche to fresh individual pies, and we have a microwave so that people can heat them up.”
Big seller: quiche
Satminder Deo, Costcutter Wath, Yorkshire
Promotion is the key to Satminder’s successful food-to-go operation. As well as the regular POS material highlighting the category, a digital screen above the food-to-go counter features all of the day’s offers and meal deals.
“The displays are constantly on rotation, catching the eye of shoppers,” Satminder says.
His offering is a masterclass in starting small and growing to cater for increased demand. Starting off with a chilled sandwich offering, Satminder soon expanded the food-to-go section to include a bake-off area and then a full-on food-to-go counter. Moving from prepacked sandwiches to an offering where customers can pick whatever filling they want may seem like a big jump, but the leap of faith has paid off and the section now accounts for just under 10% of the store’s overall turnover. He attributes the success to the high standards maintained. “Quality of ingredients is one area we never compromise on,” says Satminder. “Our food-to-go offering began because we heard customers complain about the standards at a nearby sandwich shop, so we always make sure we use the best ingredients.”
Big seller: sandwiches
Dave Brunt, Londis, Stoke
Dave Brunt brought in his current food-to-go operation as part of a recent refit of his 1,400sq ft Londis store. “It was more of a hatch before with a serve-over unit. Now you can see the preparation areas; we’ve made it like a theatre so people can see the operation,” he says.
Dave has also introduced a Tchibo coffee machine. “We do a breakfast bap and coffee deal for £3, available from about 7.30am.”
He says the filled baguettes sell well, and he expects sales of hot food such as pasties and pies to pick up over the autumn. He also specialises in a local product, the Stoke oatcake, similar in appearance to a pancake. “We sell oatcakes filled with bacon & cheese, or sausage, for £1. We assemble them on demand and sell about a dozen a day,” he says. “We also sell packs of six on the counter for £1.10, It’s another point of difference,” he says.
Overall, food to go represents about 5% of total turnover, “but it’s so important as a footfall driver,” Dave adds. His advice to other retailers is to start off by doing the core lines and build from there. “Do it well and get the quality and pricepoint right, otherwise people won’t come back.”
Big seller: filled Stoke oatcakes
Haroon Hussain, Nisa Hale End Road, Highams Park, London
With an enviable London high street location, it’s vital that Haroon and his food-to-go manager Majid Khan (pictured) get their offer correct to make the most of passing trade.
Using Cuisine de France as their main supplier, the store does a roaring trade in pastries, requiring Majid to bake little and often to ensure there’s always something fresh in the store. Food to go now accounts for 10% of the store’s turnover.
As the store is close to a school, college and a train station, mornings and lunchtimes are key for the business. Along with a counter-top hot beverage machine and the bakery items, Haroon has a range of chilled sandwiches and snacks that are ideal for take-away eating.
The range is sited close to the soft drinks display in order to “make it as easy as possible for the customer”. Window vinyls and outside signage let passers-by know exactly where they can get their snacks.
Haroon advises others considering a move into food to go not to be put off by wastage to start with. “It’s better to make sure you never run down to a single product as nobody wants to take the last item on display,” he says. “If you do have wastage early on at least you can gauge demand and get levels right.”
Big seller: pastries
James Brundle, Eat 17 store in Hackney, East London
James Brundle’s new 3,000sq ft Eat 17 store in Hackney, East London, opened early this summer, with a standout food-to-go offering - the burger bar.
The bar area includes seating and even an in-store licence, but takeaway accounts for about half of all sales, equating to about £2,500 a week, compared with the store’s turnover of £36,000.
His main objective, he says, is to be associated with one particular product. “From our perspective it’s about focusing on one strength. At our Walthamstow store it’s pizzas and here’s it’s burgers,” he says. “We just sell four burger styles; it’s about keeping it simple and doing it well - people don’t want too much choice. If we tried to do panini as well, for example, we’d just complicate things. So my advice is to focus on one thing and do it well.”
The quality-not-quantity menu includes buttermilk chicken burger, pork burger with chorizo jam, with chunky chips offered on the side - catering for Hackney’s increasingly upwardly mobile demographic. “The retailers who are doing really well are the ones who are doing it differently,” he believes.
An adjacent ‘artisan kitchen’ displays locally-produced cakes, breads and pastries and “all sell well”.
Big seller: burgers
Arjan Mehr, Londis Bracknell, Berkshire
One of the pioneers of food to go, Arjan Mehr knows what it takes to get it right. Utilising a shop-within-a-shop concept complete with self-service hot snacks units, a hot beverage machine, prepared snack and plenty of baskets of freshly baked bread, the category is a focal point for his store.
Even though his Country Choice-supplied offering takes up quite a bit of space, Arjan says it’s vital to make sure customers don’t miss it. “The correct marketing of food to go is key to its success,” he says. “It should be visible, but not so in-your-face that it intimidates people. A lot of retailers add their food-to-go offering after everything else and tuck it away somewhere, which may be useful for them but no good to the customers. They want to find what they want fast.”
As well as ensuring the offering can’t be missed, he encourages retailers to add a bit of theatre. “If you have a bake-off or sandwich offering, you should show it off to customers,” says Arjan. “Seeing the sandwiches being prepared fresh lends credibility to the offering and to your entire fresh range.”
Big seller: sausage rolls