Independent convenience retailers should be focusing on a broader range of food-to-go options if they are to catch up with their multiple rivals in this area and make the most of changing consumer behaviours, the latest IRI Convenience Market Place research indicates.

The research from the provider of big data and predictive analytics shows that sandwiches, sushi, salads and snacks to go grew 6.6% in multiple convenience stores, including Co-op Food, Tesco Express, Little Waitrose, and Sainsbury’s Local in the year to 25 March – boosting their revenues by £36m.

Independent convenience retailers, including symbols, which IRI said were more dependent on selling sandwiches, had shown a decline in food to go of 0.4% to £96m during the same period.

All retailers, including high-street multiples, convenience multiples, petrol forecourts, travel outlets and independent convenience retailers, grew value sales of food to go by 5% in the last year to £865m, driven by the high-street multiples. Petrol forecourts and travel outlets, also performed positively – up 2.9% to £185m.

Main store supermarkets dominate food-to-go sales (£1.45bn), while convenience retailers traded about £900m.

IRI said retailers had been experimenting with promotions including meal deals as the market had grown and retailers had seen how food on the go had the potential to attract footfall.

The sector now sells more than 1.4bn meals meaning that on average every person buys an average of 20 food-to-go meals a year, according to IRI.

Sandwiches grew by 3.8% to £1.4bn across all retailers but while they still account for most volume sales, it is baguettes, salads and sushi - all higher priced items – that are showing faster growth.

Ready to eat salads, for example, grew 5.1% to £800m while sales of sushi grew by 12% to £100m.

Martin Wood, head of strategic retail insight at IRI, said there was a “huge” opportunity for independent c-stores to work with wholesalers and buying groups to identify a broader range of food-to-go options.

Ready-prepared food was a way of life for most time-poor shoppers today who adopted a ‘buy-it-when-I-need-it’ approach to grocery shopping and who were eating out more.

“Now that there are more choices available, including sushi and salad, shoppers don’t need to compromise their health,” he said.

“There are also some really good meal deals being offered that add a drink – with more convenience retailers also providing fresh coffee - and/or a snack to the sushi or sandwich lunch at a price that often works out a lot cheaper than all of the component parts.”

This encouraged people to buy their breakfast, lunch or ‘anytime meal’ on the way to work or home, boosting sales across not just food to go but also snacks and beverages, Wood said.

Single-serve soft drinks climbed 3.3% in sales value to just over £3bn across all retailers while single-serve salted snacks rose 0.4% to £0.7bn.

Collectively food to go, drinks and snacks are worth £7bn annually for all retailers, IRI said.