The Bounce Back of Food-to-Go

Courtney Steele Industry News

Dan Burton 91 E Al Qnw Fs A Unsplash

March 2020 saw the Coronavirus pandemic spread and nationwide lockdowns enforced. Businesses across all sectors of the economy felt panic and uncertainty as we as a nation grappled with the unknown entity of having our freedoms restricted and our daily lives change overnight.

As working from home became the norm for the vast majority of office based workers and the stay-at-home message was reiterated day on day; no sector of the Food and Drink industry felt this strain and uncertainty quite like ‘Food-to-Go’. 18 Months on as we emerge from the cycle of lockdowns ‘irreversibly’, how has consumer behaviour and the FTG market changed and what lessons can be learned?

Who is the consumer and what do they want?

Younger working age adults (18 to 44 year olds) are returning to Food to Go at a faster pace but, reported data reveals it is the “Gen Z” generation (18 to 24 year olds) who are powering away. The latest data reveals the past 12 weeks all Food To Go was at -14% vs 2019, however Gen Z were growing at +3%. Amongst Gen Z 11 out of 26 Food-to-Go categories are in growth.

Although the top 5 Food-to-Go categories have remained the same over the last 2 years; Cold Sandwiches, Coffee, Cakes and Pastries, Crisps and Chocolate Bars they seem to have plateaued in terms of growth. Categories in growth however are drinks and in particular Milkshakes, Breakfast Drinks and Iced Coffee.

This increase in sales of trend-driven drinks reflects the generational divide we are seeing in the consumption of FTG, therefore, it is no surprise that we have seen great innovation within these categories, and this is clearly reflected in shoppers increased investment. Moreover, an increased consumer awareness of our health has become apparent across the food and drink industry as a whole during the pandemic; this too is reflected as we see growth in fruit drinks, smoothies, hot drinks and sports drinks while more traditional fizzy drinks are declining at -2%.


As a nation we have become accustomed to ‘on-demand’ solutions to our needs, starting with Uber for transport, through to Netflix for TV and movies then Deliveroo and the like for food. These companies have truly changed consumer behaviours forever by delivering an unrivalled level of choice and convenience at the tap of a screen and it the growth of these businesses clearly reflects the way our behaviours have changed during the pandemic.

Food delivery websites and apps are not new to the UK but the closure of restaurants and restricted movement of people meant that the use of these food delivery apps shifted and they were in higher demand than ever as restaurants moved to a take-away service and grocery demand increased. The ease of ordering coffee to your desk, a sandwich in at lunchtime and a romantic meal for two for dinner all at the tap of a button continues to lure in more users and the contribution of these apps to the FTG industry is expected to continue to grow stronger.

The role of outdoor socialising

It is predicted that as social restrictions continue to ease and the summer weather allows, Food-to-Go is well placed to capitalise on the outdoor socialising occasion with 21% of consumers saying they are likely to purchase Food-to-Go and eat it in a park in the future, this figure rises to 38% for 18-24s.

There is an urgency from most of the population to get back to normal and with this an opportunity for FTG as we get back to our busy lives. The top 10 Food-to-Go channels can look forward to a £1.1bn sales opportunity between 2022 and 2024, with sandwich and bakery and coffee shop/café segments poised to lead in absolute terms, the study finds.

We are a nation of busy, social, convenience led consumers and despite the changes we have seen and the difficult period we hopefully leave behind, ‘lockdown fatigue’ leaves us all with a longing for many aspects of our lives BC (Before Covid.) Opportunity for innovation has never been greater for businesses as consumers re-enter the world with a new vigour for life and we look forward to seeing how the Food-to-Go sector responds.

If you are growing a team within or looking for a new role within FTG, please get in touch, our experienced team will be happy to learn more about your needs and discuss with you how we can help.