The UK food to go market is forecast to grow by +4.1% in 2023, to reach a total value of £22.2 billion, according to Lumina Intelligence’s UK Food to Go Market Report 2023. Continued upticks in travel and footfall paired with continued high levels of inflation will drive growth in the year ahead.

Although the market is expected to see its strongest outlet growth since pre-pandemic, the cost of living crisis is prompting changes in consumer behaviour in the food to go market. Consumers are under increasing financial pressure, with 78% aligning with a very value-led attitude. This is reflected in the channel share of food to go occasions, with retail enjoying a +1ppt boost year-on-year, as consumers have traded down to more budget-friendly alternatives, largely supermarket and convenience store grab and go.

Key channels including convenience stores are well placed to capitalise on tighter budgets following investment in foodservice partnerships, higher quality, and broader ranges of value-led food to go solutions. The report finds that convenience store grab & go and coffee shops have performed robustly with double-digit growth versus 2019 figures. In fact, convenience store grab & go remains the largest channel in the food to go market, with the channel expected to drive an increase in its share through wide investment in food to go as well as benefitting from its habitual and low-ticket nature.

Food to go has become a major growth area for convenience stores in the UK, as consumers increasingly seek out affordable and convenient meal options while on the go. Over the past few years, retailers including Premier, Simply Fresh, and Spar have put a stronger focus on food to go propositions using new formats, partnerships, and products. A recovery in travelling and commuting food to go missions has prompted wider share of food to go occasions at breakfast, snack and drink food to go day-parts, key for retailers. This recovery in commuter footfall also highlights an opportunity for travel hub locations.

Go Local, Premier, Spar and Co-op are forecast to add the largest number of sites to estates in 2023. In January 2023, Go Local owner Parfetts announced it had recruited new hires to support its Go Local retailers, as the fascia expands further South following the opening of its new Birmingham depot. Lumina expects that expansion strategies among food to go market giants will be centred around exploring opportunities in drive-thru and travel hub sites, franchise operation models as well as digitalisation. These will enable operators to be more accessible, communicate to consumers in a wider variety of channels and establish more touchpoints through omnichannel expansion.

The habitual and low-ticket nature of food to go means that the channel is well placed for growth throughout the cost-of-living crisis and into economic recovery in 2024. Market growth will be greater than +3% from 2024F-2026F, with accelerating physical expansion driving growth alongside operator alignment with consumer trends around health and wellness, sustainability, and digitalisation.