The burgeoning food-to-go sector is inspiring a number of independent retailers to open new stores in 2017, in spite of rising cost pressures.

The Association of Convenience Stores revealed that store owners invested almost £300m in their businesses in the last three months of 2016. There are indications that the trend will continue into 2017, with food to go driving retailers’ investments.

Bay Bashir, who owns two stores in Middlesbrough, said he was looking to open another store this year, and would also revamp his Lifestyle Express Belle Vue store to focus more on food to go. “In Belle Vue I’ll install a proper coffee machine and hot food to go for morning and lunch, as well as in a new store. Food to go means good margin and guaranteed spend – people don’t look at price, they just want the quality,” he said. “You’ve got to do it or you’ll just end up as an old CTN.”

Baz Jethwa, who owns two Costcutter stores in Bolton, is set to open a 3,000sq ft store in central Bolton in February, with more than 20% of the space dedicated to food to go, including a serve-over deli counter and homemade 
pizzas. He will adopt a similar approach with a fourth new store in Manchester in April. “In the next three years food to go will be worth about an extra £4bn,” he said. “I wouldn’t expand without food to go, as margins are diminishing elsewhere. The wheel has turned – people used to want serve over, then they wanted groceries, now they want food to go again.”

Harris Aslam, managing director of Eros Retail in Scotland, is set to open the group’s fifth Nisa store this year. “It is important not to stand still and continue to invest in growing as a business,” he said.

“One of the key areas we will be focusing on is food to go. It is one of the biggest categories now and we want to enhance the offering for our next store.”

Store investments

“We’re investing £15,000 in food to go in one store, including a new bakery oven. Food-to-go sales are up 40% year on year, and we hope this investment will boost overall sales.”

Richard Inglis, three Welcome Co-op franchises, Hampshire

“We will give food to go a big push in 2017 and extend our deli hours to evenings. We’re establishing a chip shop-style offering on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, while looking at strengthening the evening meal offer.”

Corrina Trainor, owner of Spar Poyntzpass, Northern Ireland