Food to go has been one of the categories in convenience that has been hit hard by the coronavirus. An increase in people working from home means that offices are emptier and the lunchtime rush is significantly quieter, leading to a decline in the category.

However this is predicted to be only temporary, with it returning to pre-coronavirus levels over the next two years.

According to the latest Lumina Intelligence UK Food To Go Market Report 2020 Update, the UK food to go market is set to decline £6bn in 2020, however, the report forecasts that turnover of the food to go market will recover to close to its 2019 level by the end of 2022.

Although the UK food to go market experienced a decade of growth through the 2010 and Lumina Intelligence valued the market at £21.3bn for full year 2019 (up 2.4% year-on-year), it predicts the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is set to wipe £6bn off the market value in 2020. This equates to a decline of -29%, taking the market value to £15bn.

It states that the number of people working from home in the UK reached a peak of 60%, causing a significant decline in city centre footfall. The average number of food to go visits per consumer per month has dropped 25% year-on-year, with lunch the most impacted daypart, with a fall in frequency of -37%.

Head of Insight at Lumina Intelligence Blonnie Walsh explained the drop and how all is not lost. “The sudden shift from a highly transient, on-the-go society, to one with restrictions placed on movement has had a catastrophic impact on the UK food to go market. With much of the UK workforce working from home or furloughed, footfall in city centres nose-dived.”

“However, the sudden setback is not expected to last. The food to go market is forecast to grow by over 40% in 2021, returning the market value to around the 2019 level. The very nature of food to go, whereby it is not consumed on premise, it is relatively inexpensive and much of the customer base of the major players are already back at work, means the sector is well insulated for a swift recovery.”

SPAR FTG group shot

Spar has identified food to go as an opportunity for its retailers and is investing in the category. It recently overhauled its lunchtime offering and increased its breakfast offering to include plain and apple & cinnamon porridge options.

Spar UK brand manager Dave Wright said: “Snacking in the UK is seeing growth with a quarter of food to go shoppers buying a snack on the go twice a week. With the typical convenience food to go consumer being younger, it is important to have a food to go range that not only encourages repeat business with loyal customers but offers products attractive to new customers.”

It also expanded its range of healthy and indulgent lines to cope with the increase in people working from home, with more NPD on the way. “Having a range of fresh, on trend and seasonally relevant products available in our Spar stores is really important when attracting customers,” added Wright. “We are going to continue with our own label new product development programme as breakfast on the move and the UK snacking market grows.

“With restrictions on movement still in place in many areas around the country, and our stores continuing with their role as hubs of the community, we want to make sure they are equipped with relevant tasty and exciting food to go products when consumers begin to spend more time outside their homes, return to work or look for convenience as they go.”