It looks set to be another profitable 12 months for food to go in the c-store sector. Many retailers have reacted to increased demand in recent years by offering products such as hot pasties and freshly prepared sandwiches.
Those retailers are already on the trail of the next big thing and many are installing a range of additional food-to-go products such as evening meal solutions or fresh juice and smoothie bars.
And while not all c-stores have the demand, yet alone the space, to install an all-singing, all-dancing food-to-go section, there's a solution for every format and size of store, and it's not too late to cash in. Counter-top units provided by the likes of Country Choice and Cuisine de France mean even the smallest stores can test the water with cooked products, and a cold sandwich and baguette offering can prove simple to set up.
Cuisine de France business development manager Martin Smith agrees that c-store retailers have the chance to take their fair share of profits, but warns against jumping straight in at the deep end. He explains: "We recognise that food to go offers a significant opportunity for c-store retailers. The biggest challenge they face is having a clear understanding of the amount of labour and capital investment required. Those who recognise its importance are certainly leading the way in the c-store sector."
Smith says that progressive retailers are quick to spot the opportunities that lie in the food-to-go category. He points to a bright future for food to go, but also warns: "Training needs to be extensive, because if the right level of service is not provided customers will be put off not only the food to go itself but also other products in the store.
"Provenance is also playing a bigger role and the take-home side of food to go, such as made-in-store pizza, is also starting to take off."
Richard Bennett, Spar retail director
"Food to go is growing and provides a major opportunity for convenience store retailers. What's becoming increasingly clear is that today's consumer is demanding better-quality solutions for food on the move and food for now.
"Spar has seen this opportunity for an even greater share in the out of home food market which will in turn create increased turnover and profit for retailers' businesses. We've been developing a range of solutions for our retailers that are compatible with the variety of stores and locations we operate from.
"After a period of extensive research and testing, we launched the ...to Go brand. We have worked hard over the past three years to make a really exciting and exclusive consumer offer come to life.
"Our aim is to have an offer that is convenient, healthy and fresh and we think we're well on the way to providing that.
"Our back-up programme is second to none and we see developing the ....to Go proposition in all its guises as a really key ingredient to sustainable future growth."
Arjan Mehr, Londis, Bracknell, Berkshire
"As well as looking at what hot food they can offer, I think it's important retailers look at a chilled food-to-go offering. A lot of smaller retailers haven't got the facilities to offer a full range of hot food to go, but without altering their stores at all they can offer their own salads, wraps, sandwiches and even freshly prepared ready-to-cook pizzas.
"Training can be provided by the likes of Country Choice. It's able to provide a complete operation, from the food itself to the labels and containers.
"The next thing I'm looking at is to how I can better provide evening meal solutions. It's a different kettle of fish altogether as you're competing against the likes of Indian takeaways."