Although they may no longer be cash rich, customers are certainly still time poor, and when it comes to staving off hunger they want something quick and convenient. Statistics from Mintel show that two-thirds of UK workers take less than 30 minutes for lunch, highlighting the demand for food that can be purchased quickly and eaten on the hoof.

Retailers can capitalise on this lucrative market, but to cash in they may have to look further than a few ready-made sandwiches. One solution is an in-store food to go operation, such as the Bake & Bite-branded Shop Within A Shop concession from Country Choice.

Country Choice marketing controller Stephen Clifford explains: "It's no longer just a matter of putting a few pre-packed sandwiches on the shelf and thinking that the job's done. Consumers have become far more discerning of late and while some are still looking for value for money packed sandwiches, a rapidly growing number are looking for other attributes such as health, freshness and adventure. In order to satisfy these consumers retailers need to cover all options if they are to maximise their sandwich trade."

Retailer Ollie Lodge realised this and the latest Bake & Bite operation was included in his family's Nisa Essentials forecourt convenience store when it opened last November in Midhurst, West Sussex. The store is already drawing in plenty of customers and Ollie believes that this is largely down to its food to go.

Within the first month of opening, the Bake & Bite counter turned over almost £3,000 a week. According to Ollie, food to go accounts for 12% of the entire store's takings.

"We didn't expect it to hit these levels so soon," says Ollie. "When we opened a Bake & Bite area in another one of our stores, it took months for us to hit that target. I'm now looking to bring it up from £3,000 to £5,000 per week by the summer."

The Bake & Bite area in the Midhurst Essentials is larger than average, measuring four by six metres, and sells hot and cold snacks. Separate to this is a hot beverage station, bread display and sandwich chiller. The hot beverage station, which serves a wide variety of coffees and teas for 99p each, has been particularly successful. "We sell between 50 and 60 cups a day," says Ollie. "We get a lot of passing trade and customers come in to get a quick snack and a coffee or tea. Only 99p for a bean-to-cup coffee is quite reasonable and the fact that it's of good quality really attracts people. We've already noticed some repeat customers."

As the store is on a petrol forecourt the food-to-go counter has been strategically placed beside the till to attract customers who come in to pay for their fuel. "While they are queuing to pay for their petrol, they are able to grab a quick bite," says Ollie.

Baguettes, pasties and pizza products are pre-baked in-store to ensure a ready supply for customers in a hurry and Ollie believes this helps to set his store apart from the competition. "One other nearby shop bakes to order, which takes too long for our busy customers. Other stores have pre-packed sandwiches and snacks, but they don't have as long a shelf life."

Country Choice development director Gary Picton describes the benefits of a Bake & Bite area for a retailer: "If a retailer decides to have a Bake & Bite area then we'll organise it so that they can maximise their profits with the minimum of stress. If they decided to organise their own food-to-go facilities, they'd have to order from a dozen different suppliers, whereas with us there's just one."

Ollie says that the support he's received from Country Choice has been great and is reassured by the fact the company has people on hand to help him at any time.

Picton says that County Choice provides five days of training for Bake & Bite operators - two days before the installation and three after it opens. A rep calls back once a week for a month and then once a month after that. They are also on call should any emergencies arise.

The Bake & Bite operation cost about £35,000 to set up, but Ollie believes this is quite reasonable considering the sales it generates.

"If we continue to make the sales that we have been, then it's been money well spent," he says. "It's definitely something I would recommend to other retailers. The station is a dedicated food-to-go area that takes very little management on my part, and we have one supplier that delivers everything. If I was to organise all of this myself, I wouldn't have time to take care of the rest of the store."
Grab and go
● Bakehouse has launched a new range of snacks designed to eat on the go. According to Mintel, the value of on-the-go snacking grew to £4.4bn a year in 2008, with more than six billion snacking occasions.The new lines include the Superfruits Booster Bar, which contains one of the recommended 5-a-day, alongside a Chocolate Orange Brownie and a Cheese Twist.Bakehouse will add new products to the range each month for the remainder of 2009.● Ginsters is moving into the hot takeaway snacks market in a link up with cooking system manufacturer Merrychef.

All of the stores involved in the partnership use the Merrychef 402S, which cooks a wide range of food in seconds.Merrychef business development manager Mark Middleton says: “Ginsters is widening menus with a hot food offering not previously available in c-stores. The Merrychef 402S cooks fresh food to order in seconds, ideal for hungry, time-starved customers.”● Catering equipment supplier Kavis has unveiled its new Hot & Crispy range of packaging designed for the food-to-go sector.

The bags are designed to keep contents at the same temperature for up to 15 minutes and allow moisture to evaporate without compromising the food’s crispiness. Special paper ensures the bags do not leak or discolour with grease.As well as being food contact approved, biodegradable and compostable, the bags are available in a range of colours and can be personalised with branded messages.● Mattessons has revealed increased sales for its Fridge Raiders range. Sales were up 6% for the year ending November 2008, at £15.6m.

With the cooked meat snack sector currently valued at £62.4m, which is also up 6% on last year, it could be a good time to cash in on this market.Fridge Raiders senior brand manager Anthony Wilkinson says of the brand’s popularity: “The success of Fridge Raiders essentially boils down to a consumer truth about raiding the fridge. Over the past few years there has been a shift away from formal eating in favour of grazing and eating out of home. With this in mind, it is essential to be able to offer consumers a healthy snack that they can grab on-the-go.”Mattessons is focusing in on the 16-34 young snacking demographic by highlighting the appeal of a low-calorie, low-carb, high-protein snack that is made from 100% chicken breast.