Thursday, 31st August, 2017

Sandwiches and Food-To-Go

Food-to-go is one of the most exciting markets for operators at the moment. With new innovation appearing from both QSRs and leading food-to-go specialists within this sector, there has never been more of an opportunity to capitalise on consumers’ growing demand for quick and convenient food on the go.

According to leading retail market researchers IGD (August 2017), the UK’s food-to-go market is set to reach a market value of £23.5bn by 2022, a 30% increase from its current value of £17.4bn. In the report they found that particularly strong growth was most present within specialist food-to-go retailers, including Greggs, Subway®, Pret, EAT and relative newcomer to the market, Leon.

Sacha Clark, Marketing Director for leading food to go sandwich specialist Subway®, told QuickBite; “When purchasing food-to-go, consumers are looking for a meal solution that satisfies their criteria of quality, taste, convenience and price.”

“For many customers the motivation to continue to visit Subway® stores lies in the fact that the Subway® brand offers a varied menu which is consistently evolving through the introduction of new menu options. Customers can keep discovering different tastes and flavours and choose healthier on-the-go options.”
Indeed, consumers are undoubtedly becoming more adventurous and equally more health conscious in terms of their choices on the go. The sheer range of food now offered by manufacturers and operators alike gives a consumer with a more eclectic palate more choice than ever before.

Gavin Rothwell, Senior Insight Manager at IGD, commented: “As shoppers become more sophisticated in their tastes and demands, so too does the UK’s food-to-go market. We’re seeing some highly innovative product and menu development, much of this inspired by shopper trends towards health and wellness and global flavours and tastes.”

“Food-to-go specialists are really setting the pace on product innovation and range development as well as expanding quite rapidly outside London, which is why we are forecasting them to become the biggest part of the food to go market by the end of 2022.”

It is little surprise then that some of the UK’s most established brands are continuing to innovate in order to cater to the on-the-go shopper. Pret, Greggs and Subway® continue to expand into motorway services and petrol forecourts, in a bid to reach the lucrative on-the-go shopper. Greggs has even opened its first ever drive-thru in one of the UK’s busiest cities, and with plans to open more on the horizon, it seems that the food-to-go shopper is driving the trends within food service forward.

Consumer trends certainly seem to be tailored towards the versatility and convenience that food to go offers as Tom Styman-Heighton, Foodservice Development Chef at Funnybones, explains; “With lives becoming busier and stress levels soaring, there is little time today for sitting down and enjoying a meal as a family. Research suggests that three main meals a day is a thing of the past with many people skipping at least one meal a day.”

“These meal skippers are eating snacks instead, or are picking up food-to-go from supermarkets, cafes, motorway service stations or wherever else their tasks for the day take them. Convenience is everything for these consumers who aim to eat when and where it suits them.”

So appealing is the quick and popular ‘to-go’ menu option, IGD also anticipate QSRs will continue to update their menus and reinvent the ‘in-store experience’ resulting in a more premium look to their food to go options, in order to appeal to younger consumers.
Rothwell said; “In addition to the well-known high street names, there are several new players emerging in this sector as well. Although we expect food-to-go specialists to become the biggest part of the market, QSRs are also set to grow well over the next five years, with 83% of the food-to-go shoppers who visit these stores satisfied with their overall experience.”


• Tom Styman-Heighton, Funnybones Foodservice Development Chef
• Sacha Clark, Marketing Director for Subway® UK & Ireland
• Becci Eplett, Marketing Manager, Huhtamaki UK
• Frannie Santos-Mawdsley, Senior Customer Marketing Manager, Moy Park
• Philippa Norton, Marketing Manager, New York Bakery Company
• Craig Dillon, Head of Foodservice, Tilda UK
• Steve Hemsil, Sales Director UK & Ireland, Welbilt
• Adrian Greaves, Foodservice Director, Young’s Foodservice
• John Wannan, Sales and Marketing Manager, Moffat Catering Equipment
• Jane Deegan, Marketing Manager, Kara Foodservice

What makes products in the food-to-go sector so popular?

“The simple answer to this is our 24/7 culture with time-poor consumers needing to eat whilst on the go or out and about,” begins Phillipa Norton, Marketing Manager, New York Bakery Company. “The traditional model of families eating together at set meals times is fading fast as busy people need to grab what they can when they can.”
“This coupled with menu innovation and the growth of both retail food to go brands and independents means that food to go continues to grow year on year.”
Steve Hemsil, Sales Director at Welbilt agrees; “The modern consumer’s busy lifestyle requires food which can be eaten on the go that will provide a filling meal as well as satisfying the multitude of varying consumer taste buds.”

“Food-to-go often lends itself to a wide variety of different menu options and continues to evolve to meet the demands of rushed customers. The beauty of grab and go food is that it can be cooked and served quickly without customers needing to be seated or wait for table service.”

This is where the appeal lies as Adrian Greaves, Foodservice Director at Young’s, elaborates; “The food to go market is a considerably lucrative area of foodservice and served consistently at any time of day, particularly during the lunch time rush.”

“Therefore, customers require a variety of delicious options in a quick and convenient format to suit their busy lifestyles. For a successful offering, operators should provide a sufficient selection, suited to all consumer needs, from hot snacks and salads to sandwiches and wraps.”

So, with increasing competition from not only other food to go specialists and QSRs, but also supermarkets and convenience stores, how can outlets continue to appeal to consumers?

Sacha Clark, Marketing Director for Subway®, explains how they remain one of the UK’s largest food to go specialists; “With the QSR market continuing to grow at a rapid pace, it follows that the sector is becoming increasingly competitive with consumers able to take their pick of a wide range of cuisines and meal options.”

“Offering a wide range of great tasting food choices that can be tailored to the customer’s individual requirements is one of the keys to driving sales.

“We were the first to offer guests the opportunity to customise their sandwiches.  There are now 62 million combinations available. Subway® store customers can pick their choice of bread, core ingredients, the salad and sauce they would like. Every one of our Subs is made fresh in front of the customer, by our Sandwich Artists, exactly the way that the customer wants.”

Sasha concludes; “We believe this personalisation of the menu adds value to the customer experience when in a Subway® store and so do our customers, with the Subway® brand leading competitors on menu choice.”

What are the latest trends and how can operators add value with sandwiches and wraps?

“Adding a clever seasonal twist or a new sandwich filling is a sure-fire way of keeping your customers coming back for more,” explains Phillipa. “Simple switches like smoked chicken for regular chicken, sun dried tomatoes for fresh tomatoes or onion bagel for plain bagel can also add interest and help avoid menu fatigue.”

“Indulgence is still a driver for consumers who want to treat themselves though so this year we launched Cheese bagels into the OOH sector in response to consumer demand for cheese based products and dishes.”

“Cheese topped sandwiches are taking up more shelf space in coffee shops and FTG outlets on the high street and as bagels are the second fastest growing sandwich at lunchtime, the cheese bagel aligns with this trend. It gives operators the opportunity to add value to their menus by creating premium hot or cold deli-style sandwich ideas.

“In recent years, the quality of a sandwich offering has been taken to a whole new level, packed full of delicious ingredients served in a variety of breads,” adds Adrian. “With many options on the market to compete with, it is clear that the traditional sandwich is never going out of fashion.”

“However, keeping up with trends and fillings is more important than ever. Hot sandwiches have great appeal as the perfect hybrid; a substantial and filling option but not enough to send you into a food-induced coma.”

“Fish fingers are popular with all ages as our latest research into Britain’s favourite foods clearly shows; with over a quarter of the population naming fish fingers as one of their favourite foods.  Fish fingers work particularly well in a sandwich for a delicious and comforting classic, ideal for a grab and go menu.”

Craig Dillon, Head of Foodservice, Tilda UK, sees value in the versatility of wraps; “Easy to make, cheap to produce and incredibly adaptable, wraps work across lunch, dinner and snack menus. Hot or cold they are a true all-day option for caterers to profit from.”

“Diners can easily customise wraps to their own personal taste, a key trend for 2017. Simply switch meat for a veggie option to make them suitable for vegetarians or replace hot salsa with a milder alternative for those who don’t like spice.”

Of course the sheer popularity of sandwiches and wraps lies in the fact that both allow for fillings that follow the trends in other areas of catering. So, with the current popularity of foods from America meats such as pulled pork and barbecue chicken have become very desirable fillings. Tom elaborates; “As with all meat products quality is vital, and to create a tasty sandwich filling, good quality meat cooked well and properly prepared is required. Pulled meats should be roasted long and slow, and then gently prised apart into good sized chunks and flakes of moist, succulent meat.”

“At Funnybones Foodservice we have sought out a new range of tender pulled meats that have the deep flavour and the chunky hand-pulled texture of home-cooked meats. Our Tender-cooked Pulled Pork, Tender-cooked Pulled Halal Beef and Tender-cooked Pulled Halal Chicken are lightly smoked, open roasted and carefully prepared to add to hot and cold sandwich and wrap fillings or to be used as fillings for Burritos and Tacos.”

Craig agrees that consumers are now looking further afield for their lunchtime flavour inspiration.  He adds; “People are becoming ever more adventurous when it comes to food, with a taste for global flavours expanding. This presents an opportunity for caterers to be innovative with their food to go offering to reflect the appeal of world food.”

“According to the 2016 Horizon Menu Trends Report, Mexican street food became an established trend in 2016; little surprise, therefore, that listings of burritos on menus have tripled since 2010. An incredibly versatile dish and ideal for the food to go market, burritos can be tailored to fit a wide range of dietary requirements, allowing caterers to easily offer customers a taste of Mexico.”

Hand in hand with global cuisines and flavours is street food.  Its style and food very popular with consumers, it has managed to turn the way we eat on its head. Frannie Santos-Mawdsley, Moy Park Foodservice explains; “Street-food has been one of the biggest developments to hit food service and incorporating the trend into your offering could prove profitable.”

“World bakery products such as wraps are a good way of doing this and have grown in popularity thanks to their versatility and the ability to offer something different to the more traditional sandwich. The beauty of wraps is they make a quick and stress-free alternative, perfect with hot or cold fillings and can demand a higher price point thanks to their premium positioning.”

Alongside premiumisation and customisation comes health and wellness, one of the more publicised trends in the food service industry. This has undoubtedly changed the landscape of the food to go industry, in particular sandwiches and wraps.

“Health drives many consumer decisions when it comes to sandwiches and food to go and this can take many forms, such as reducing portion size, choosing multigrain or adding vegetables and protein,” explains Phillipa.

“New York Bakery Bagel Thins and 85g bagels are examples of delicious sandwich carriers in smaller portions. Operators can market them as a lighter eat that doesn’t compromise on taste. The wholemeal and multigrain bagels are also popular in outlets with healthy messages on their menus and we’re seeing a gradual move in demand from the plain to the multigrain bagel.”

Catering for more specific and sometimes unavoidable health and dietary requirements is also important, as Steve explains; “The rise of ‘free-from’ and ‘gluten-free’ is probably one of the biggest trends within the food-to-go market at the moment, as consumers become ever more conscious about the food that they eat when out of the home.”

“These trends are no longer limited to those with special dietary requirements and our culinary team is finding that more and more of our customers are asking us to develop menu programmes on both our Merrychef and Convotherm units for free-from menu items.”

Craig adds; “Rice is one of the foods least likely to cause allergies, making it first choice for those who suffer from gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. By simply using a gluten-free wrap, burritos allow coeliacs to enjoy a substantial meal.”

Well-known for their varied free-from ranges, Kara Foodservice, who provide sweet and savoury bakery items to the industry, see busy lifestyles and less structured eating patterns becoming much more prominent.  Jane Deegan, Marketing Manager, explains; “With 13% of consumers now purchasing a sandwich on a work based commute it’s important that vendors stock the right sandwich carriers to accompany and meet demand.”

“Kara recently launched two new sliced bloomers and re-introduced its existing bloomer range with some great new menu ideas. The bloomer range now includes both a pre- sliced on vogue sliced Sourdough bloomer, and a Multi-seeded bloomer containing, Linseeds, Sunflower, Millet and Pumpkin seeds making for nutritious sandwiches as well as rejuvenated old classics, the white bloomer and a malted bloomer.”

“This is the perfect go to range to accompany a large variety of delicious sandwich fillings, such as the traditional all day breakfast or seasonal fillers such as succulent turkey pieces, cranberry and sage stuffing. Kara Bloomer breads give sandwiches a premium appearance on displays and with consumers now wanting quality, but, without the gourmet price tag.”

Subway® are known as one of the healthier choices available ‘on-the-go’ and continue to be a key driver of current trends with consumers increasingly choosing freshly made options.

Sasha adds; “We lead the QSR category on health and offering a healthier menu which is as nutritious as it can be, and at a price that affords good value is the strategy at the heart of the business.”

“Subway® is the only QSR to have signed up to eight nutrition-based Responsibility Deal pledges that were put in place by the previous government. Indeed, of three of the pledges we are the only QSR to be able to endorse: salt reduction 2017 targets, calorie reduction, and saturated fat reduction and we are also the only QSR with a heart health charity partner. Heart Research UK supports a customer’s choice of a Low-Fat Sub.”

“Our Low-Fat Sub range caters for customers looking to reduce the amount of fat in their diets without compromising on taste. Also available on flatbread, the range contains less than 3g of fat per 100g and when all 5 fresh salad items are included in a 6-inch Sub, they add up to 1 of your 5-a-day.”

Additionally, they are also one of the first QSR brands to provide calorie labelling and nutritional information across their product range on in-store information boards and on our website. They are also currently studying ways that we can provide traffic light labelling as part of the nutritional information provided online for standard build Subs.

“This year we have also been the first QSR brand to announce our ambition by 2020 to only sell low or no sugar drinks throughout our projected 3,000 stores,” adds Sasha.

“Furthermore, aggregating all sales, nearly 4 billion calories in GB and 3 million calories in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been removed from our customers’ diets, with an overall 30% calories consumption reduction in GB and 15% reduction in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland from drinks sold in Subway® stores.”

What equipment is available to ensure food-to-go products are presented at their best and how do you choose what’s right for your business?

Becci Eplett, Marketing Manager for Huhtamaki, one of the UK’s leading packaging providers explains; “As more and more people consume food out of home, and indeed on the go, it’s more important than ever that the single use container looks good and enhances the consumer experience.”

“Think about your existing menu and the choices of food that will be available to takeaway, also consider the type and quality of disposables required. It is important that the same level of consideration is placed upon the disposable solutions you choose, as when sourcing the ingredients for the menu choices that you serve.”

“Choose disposables that come in a choice of different sizes and colours. This is for ease of service as well as aesthetics! Use containers that are coloured according to their size for easy selection of the right sized product. Huhtamaki’s ‘Eatwell’ range has coloured containers according to size and is stackable to save space so you can simply reach for the correct size pot at a glance. They are also supplied in user-friendly combi-packs, with the containers and lids in the same case, perfect if you’ve got limited kitchen space.”

Becci concludes; “If catering at events, choose disposables which can be used for the food provision there too – don’t just consider what you’re serving, but think about the nature of the event and how you will be catering for customers who are eating directly from the pack, almost certainly on the move. And of course, with 80% of the UK population buying a takeaway hot drink a range of disposable paper cups which support and promote the style and presentation of your outlet are essential.”
Catering equipment company Moffat have recently launched a range of free-standing Grab & Go units. The units are available as hot and cold, cold, hot and ambient models, offering a complete meal deal solution in a compact footprint.

John Wannan, Sales and Marketing Manager, explains; “All the models in the range benefit from Moffat’s innovative ‘Free Flow Airflow system, which maintains pre-heated and pre-chilled food at regulated temperatures, without deterioration or drying out.”

“The invisible air curtain flows past the front of the food products reducing the chance of the cold or warm air escaping, maximising efficiency of the unit. Meanwhile, the ‘Free Flow’ system circulates the air inside the carefully designed cabinet, maintaining consistent temperature. Hot products are maintained at temperatures of 65°C to 75°C in ambients above 16°C, while chilled products are maintained between 2°C to 5°C in ambients below 25°C.”

John concludes; “Model MHC1 is a heated and chilled unit, which combines storage for both hot and cold food displays in the one slim-line unit. It’s ideal for venues pushed for space, but wanting to offer a full range of convenience foods. The unit keeps sandwiches, drinks and salads perfectly chilled, whilst keeping hot snacks such as pasties and sausage rolls at the ideal serving temperature.”

What does the future hold for the food to go sector?

“The food to go sector is forecast to continue to grow at a faster rate than the rest of the eating out market so it’s a great opportunity for all operators,” begins Phillipa. 
“However, competition is likely to increase as traditionally eat in outlets will continue to move towards developing FTG and takeaway offers. Continuous improvement on meeting customers’ needs for convenience and quality will be essential to compete.”

Sasha adds; “The food-to-go scene has continued to grow over the past year with the QSR sector growing traffic by +2.1%, outperforming the total foodservice market in terms of traffic growth, and spend increasing by +4.6%.”

“However, it’s breakfast which seems to be the meal occasion to watch within the QSR sector. IGD Retail Analysis shows more frequent purchase of breakfast on-the-go, with the average food-to-go shopper now buying breakfast an average of 0.8 times per week, whilst traffic’s up +7.1% across food service as a whole according to CREST4.”

She concludes; “Breakfast is an area where the Subway® brand are looking to extend their current breakfast offering and we are currently trialling several new product options in a small number of stores ahead of a concerted focus on breakfast from Q1 2018.  On top of all this, Subway® is in the process of rebuilding our menu architecture to meet the changing tastes of our customers. It is a very busy and exciting time.”