Alice Dolling

21 billion is a big number. It is nearly triple the number of people on the planet, it’s bigger than some developing economies, and it’s just shy of the predicted value of the UK food-to-go market for 2019 which, according to HIM MCA, stands to be £21.2bn.

How does the convenience channel fit into this mammoth figure? Convenience grab and go makes up a large chunk of the value, but cracks start to show when we look at food-to-go growth figures. Although channel growth figures are positive, they are lower than total market. This is to be expected: food-to-go specialists are focused on the task at hand and so have understandably developed an offer that better meets consumer needs and evolving trends.

The question is, can and should convenience stores try to compete? Snack to go is still the biggest day-part of the food-to-go market, and traditional snacking categories such as confectionery and crisps have a high penetration in convenience stores. But, to win, snacking ranges must be in line with consumer trends in order to draw in younger food to go shoppers, who currently under-index in the channel.

A focus on quality and taste is imperative, given it is the second most important factor to a food-to-go shopper. Speed of service is the only factor that’s more important, and we’ve seen a lot of technological innovation in this area from food-to-go specialists. Last month McDonald’s launched its ‘M To-Go’ format, a take-away only store where customers can only order via digital kiosks.

Do I think convenience can do more with technology to draw in the food to go shopper? Certainly. Although, this does not mean I think staff should be fully replaced. Staff will always play a key role in convenience, as staff friendliness and helpfulness remains the top importance to a convenience store shopper, but the introduction of technology that speeds up service, such as self-service tills, will then allow for staff to focus on offering other added benefit services. In fact, this is where I think convenience could have its edge over food-to-go specialists – offering not only speed of service, but also that experience-enhancing personal service, too