Both suppliers and symbol group operators have widened the options available to retailers looking at a move into the food-to-go category

Choosing the right branded food-to-go offering will create a professional appearance and give customers faith in the products they are buying. With a fair number of options to choose from, however, selecting exactly what to give your customers and who to team up with is not always easy.
Symbol groups including Spar, Budgens and Londis have developed extensive food-to-go concepts, while the industry's two main food-to-go suppliers, Country Choice and Cuisine de France, both have a variety of options available to retailers of varying sizes. Franchise options including the likes of Subway, which has developed a good relationship with Spar wholesaler and retailer Hendersons, are also available to retailers looking to cater for the growing number of on-the-go consumers.
Country Choice's shop-within-a-shop Bake & Bite concept is just one option available. Managing director Raj Tugnait says the concept is going from strength to strength and is available to retailers of varying sizes. "Our shop-within-a-shop is a modular system and is always set up with the demographics of the area around the store in mind. It's very flexible. One retailer may decide to provide fresh and chilled sandwiches while another could choose to offer just hot food."
Tugnait explains that Country Choice is able to offer self-serve or serve-over formats and can provide everything as part of a single package. He says: "It's a fully branded foodservice solution from one supplier, from the products themselves through to the shopfittings and equipment. If retailers attempt to get all of this from different suppliers it's not as easy. Also if everything features the same branding, the set-up looks more professional and the customers are happier to purchase products."
According to Country Choice, the Bake & Bite branding is now in place in some form in about 4,000 stores. Tugnait believes there's still further growth to be had, however, and says some retailers using the shop-within-a-shop format are starting to benefit from trade into the early evening, where previously it was centred only around mornings and afternoons.
"I think we've managed to crack the evening trade to an extent with products like pizzas and rôtisserie chickens," he says. "By providing products for shoppers on their way home, retailers are able to extend their trading hours and maximise sales from food to go."
Tugnait predicts a future where food to go will be evident in all
c-stores and CTNs. He adds: "I think we'll eventually see the top food-to-go retailers operating almost a retail restaurant. Mid-range retailers will follow a café/bakery model and the rest will be offering fresh impulse lines and a bakery. Customers will expect to find something from these three in their local c-store. Retailers who offer this will benefit and those who don't will probably not be viewed as a fully functioning
Rival supplier Cuisine de France chose this year's Convenience Retailing Show to launch its new Cuisine to Go format. The format is also modular, meaning it is available in a number of sizes to retailers with differing needs.
Marketing director David Girdler is pleased with the take-up of the new concept, which includes a range of savoury snacks, sandwiches, baguettes and pastries. He explains: "Our Cuisine to Go format is going very well and is proving popular in various sizes, from the full-size systems to just certain elements of the concept. The modular format of Cuisine to Go will be key to its success and popularity."
Girdler explains that the remainder of this year will be spent rolling out the format: "We're well into three figures in terms of retailers who have taken up an aspect of the offer and there are about 25 who have already taken on the full concept. We have a steady rollout planned through to October."
Girdler warns, though, that retailers should carefully plan what food to go they want to offer shoppers. "It's a big decision for retailers to make and they need to do a bit of research, which we can help with," he says. "A fully blown food-to-go offering is not necessarily right for everyone. We're impartial and will be honest if we don't think it'll work. Each store is judged on its own merits. We will visit and discuss the plans and put together a menu and modular offering to meet each retailer's needs."
He adds: "We can provide equipment with a very small footprint for smaller stores pushed for space, as well as complete turn-key solutions for retailers with a bit more space to play with. We also offer comprehensive training for retailers. We have three training schools across the UK and we also offer on-site training and take retailers into stores which already offer the format."
Symbol solutions
Symbol group MBL has developed two separate food-to-go offerings for its Budgens and Londis stores. Budgens retailers can sign up to the new Good to Go brand, while Londis retailers can benefit from a more streamlined package - a name for which is still being developed through consumer research.
MBL head of buying fresh Steve Carter explains; "With Budgens being generally larger stores, we've teamed up with the likes of Newitts and Bombay Brasserie for deli products and curries respectively. We've also developed juice and smoothie bars along with baguettes, sandwiches and traditional pastries.
"Londis is the same offer but because of the size of the stores there's not as great a need for tie-ins like Bombay Brasserie and Newitts. Londis retailers have the option to offer sandwiches, pastries, fresh ground coffee through Lavazza and tea through Twinings."
MBL's food-to-go offering includes three different levels, each designed for different sized stores. Entry-level retailers will receive a counter-top unit with a built-in oven, while the intermediate format for medium-sized stores is self-serve with a separate oven, which can incorporate hot pastries, coffee and rôtisserie. The complete serve-over requires a large store format and can offer customers options including freshly made baguettes, paninis, jacket potatoes, burgers and soup.
Carter is confident the category has plenty of room for growth and says: "We recognise food to go is key to the development of both sides of the business and we want to be famous for food to go under both brands. At the moment, retailers are enjoying very strong business, from the morning through to the afternoon. The aim now is to stretch this trade forward into the evening with things like pizza and shepherd's pie."
Carter warns that the category needs to be taken seriously, however, and adds:
"I definitely think a lot of our members realise the importance of the category and know that it can offer very good margins. However, it's an area from a retailer's perspective that if you don't get the people element right with the correct training, it could be very costly. The health and safety side of things needs to be strictly enforced to avoid real disaster. We work with members to make sure this doesn't happen. If retailers get it right I believe there's certainly double-digit growth available."
Meanwhile, Spar is also predicting a healthy future for the food-to-go category. The symbol group has recently invested in developing its 'to Go' brand for retailers. It's a category retailers can't ignore, according to food to go implementation manager Jayne Irvine.
"The food-to-go category has recently been valued at £1.2bn and is forecast to rise to £1.5bn by leading experts," she says. "The opportunities for Spar and our retailers are significant."
As with most food-to-go operations, Spar has developed a range of options for retailers, depending on the type of products they wish to provide customers.
"The level of the 'to Go' offer will vary according to the main characteristics of the store, customer shopping missions and format type," says Irvine. "Our entry level can be used as an introduction into the category and is ideal for stores that have no previous hot food takeaway offer. This has been developed to deliver the two key hot food entry categories of hot filled baps or baguettes and hot savoury pastries. Entry level would also include cakes and sweet pastries.
"The mid-range level includes made-in-store products such as baguettes, sandwiches and salads in addition to the entry-level range. Mid-range plus allows for made-to-order products and assisted-serve deli and hot food products, such as jacket potatoes, chicken wings and potato wedges. Finally, the full range level allows for cook-to-order products and a wider range of assisted hot serve products such as rôtisserie chickens and pizza."
Irvine explains that take-up of the new format is gathering momentum quickly and is confident Spar retailers will play a key role in further category growth. She adds: "Food to go provides retailers with a point of difference and we will continue to develop and invest in this key category. We are collaborating with international colleagues to introduce Censa, a Fairtrade coffee brand sourced from central South America, and our Treehouse smoothie brand and Kitsu Noodle brand should both continue to grow."
Elsewhere in the category, Subway recently opened its 1,000th UK and Ireland store. It has more than 40 stores open in convenience stores or on forecourt sites and a further 100 are planned for the sector in the next 12 months.
A successful partnership with Hendersons in Ireland has proved the format can work. Bosses say they are now looking for similar development options across the UK.
"We by no means have an exclusive attitude towards large chains and have a simple offering which can fit into a variety of stores," says development agent Paul Heyes.
"There is a lot of flexibility with the design and layout. Although we will never offer a reduced menu and compromise on our range, we are in place in a number of stores with limited space. The feedback that we've received from the likes of Hendersons is that the Subway brand increases footfall and overall customer spend in the stores."
Heyes adds: "Retailers can successfully run a store with just one person in place behind the Subway counter and just man up the counter at busy times. There is also an option for retailers to rent out floorspace in their store for us to run a Subway outlet."