The UK is a nation of snackers: 96% of people eat snacks, with 69% snacking at least once a day (Mintel). Many of these snacking occasions – 722 million of them in fact – happen on the go and with the FTG set to grow +46% by 2022 (HIM) this demand shows no sign of slowing.

Data shows us that crisps and snacks are the second largest category shoppers are purchasing on the go, second only to soft drinks (HIM) – offering a huge opportunity for retailers to drive sales. The most important factors to shoppers purchasing crisps and snacks on Food to Go occasions is price at 85%, brand at 77% and pack size at 72% (HIM).

“Therefore, it’s essential for retailers to stock the best-selling brands, such as McCoy’s and Hula Hoops in a variety of sizes and price points,” comments Matt Collins, Trading Director at KP Snacks.

Food to Go occasions happen every day. On average, over half of consumers snack to satisfy hunger between meals, with a third of consumers doing so 2-3 times a day (Mintel). We also know that ‘treat’ occasions peak towards the end of the week and at the weekend as consumers start to desire more indulgent treats (HIM).

The consumers that are purchasing on the go lead busy lifestyles and believe snacks are a necessity to keep their energy up throughout the day (Mintel). They tend to be more affluent than the average convenience shopper, as they have the extra disposable income to make those impulse purchases.

“They are also younger; 54% are aged between 16 and 34 so catering to their needs with products that resonate with a younger audience such as popchips and McCoy’s grab bags are crucial for capitalising on this opportunity,” adds Collins.

Meal deals play an important role at lunchtime and are a key mechanic to increasing basket spend. HIM insights show that, at 49%, the most in demand item shoppers want in their meal deal is crisps or snacks. 39% of consumers specifically want nuts in their meal deal whilst 27% look for healthier options and 39% of snackers say busy lifestyles make snacks a necessity (HIM).

With 70% of the UK adult population regularly buying lunch on the go (HIM), the lunchtime occasion represents a great sales opportunity for retailers.

“However, there is a high level of competition within the snacks market, particularly surrounding food to go, and convenience stores often have to work harder to draw in customers,” says Collins. “Retailers can help encourage cross-purchases by grouping meal deal products together and having the right promotions and displays in place to entice the shopper.”

Although the meal deal is a key sales driver for Food to Go, the singles market, and in particular the Grab Bag are vital for customers looking to top-up their lunch with an RSV of £65m (Nielsen).

Andre Burger, VP Ice Cream and Snacking, Unilever UK&I, comments: “Life is hectic so it’s no surprise that the food-to-go market is booming.”

Traditional mealtimes are being replaced by a ‘grab and go’ mindset, whether that’s breakfast on-the-go, lunch alfresco style, or a quick snack in the afternoon – new eating patterns demand new products.

“Consumers are pressed for time and yes, they want quick and easy meals, but they won’t compromise on taste – and why should they?” adds Burger. “Food is the heartland of our business, so as the UK’s biggest supplier of mini meals, forgoing on taste or quality is not an option for us. We invest time and energy into developing products that lead the category – and when it comes to mini-meals – that means products that are really going to hit the spot when it comes to something hot and delicious in minutes.”

The mini-meals category is currently worth almost £200m with potential to grow even further. Unilever has re-thought its range, moving beyond Pot Noodle and into a completely different realm with new flavours, new base ingredients such as rice, and even lower-calorie variants.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the biggest topics surrounding the food and drink industry right now is plastic,” Burger comments. “We know this is a concern for our retail partners and consumers and we have a huge responsibility to deliver more sustainable products. This is why we have pledged that by 2025, all of our plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable and this is applies to our mini meal brands too.”

Purpose is prevailing and influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions, with Nielsen research showing that two thirds prefer to buy from brands that reflect their own values and beliefs. For the first time last year, Unilever collaborated with pop-up prodigy, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, to create a range of super stews inspired by Africa including Red Red, a meal pot that is ready in seven minutes.

The brand donates 6p from every pot sold to Farm Africa – helping rural families to grow their incomes whilst also protecting their local environment for generations to come. Red Red’s recipes are all gluten-free and vegan-friendly.

“We believe that healthier pot meals that taste great are of growing interest to consumers, which is why we developed the PrepCo brand,” says Burger. “We saw a clear gap in the market for a healthier lunch option that also tastes great.”

High in protein and made with natural ingredients, PrepCo is a brand that’s simplifying healthier choice in the mini meals segment and the range is helping to bring a new demographic of consumers to the category, which has resulted in incremental sales (Nielsen). Unilever is supporting the range this year with digital and social campaigns.

“Flavour is everything to consumers, no-one wants a bland meal no matter how quick and easy it is to eat,” Burger continues.

Demand for flavours from across the globe is at an all-time high, driven by consumers travelling to far and exotic destinations and trying completely new foods. Asian dishes in particular are experiencing year-on-year growth (Kantar).

“We’re in the food business so we know that taste is everything,” says Burger. “Even when eating lunch at their desks, consumers want spice, they want zest and they want to tantalise their taste buds. Our aim with the new Asian Street Style range was to capture the flavours and experience from the far east in one handy pot, giving consumers a street feast they can eat on their feet!”

With a choice of recipes including Thai Red Curry, Malaysian Laksa, Japanese Miso Noodle Soup and Vietnamese Beef Pho, Unilever has created an authentic range of mini meals, with each pot containing under 250 calories.

Erwan Inizan, Northern Europe Sales Director, Bridor, comments: “One of the top ten food trends identified for 2020 by FMCG Gurus is the reclassification of snacking. With almost a third of consumers not eating breakfast or lunch every day and almost a quarter not eating dinner every day, there is a significant opportunity to fulfil the appetite for the up to six different mealtimes that UK consumers identified.”

Providing convenient, nutritious options is key with many people looking to counter their indulgences with healthier, more sustainable options.

The first meal of the day represents 35% of all food-to-go occasions.

“Therefore, wholesalers should ensure the breakfast basics are covered, this includes supplying sweet and savoury pastries have mass appeal in the food-to-go market,” suggests Inizan.

Classic Viennese pastries have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years as new fillings and flavours evolve.

Outside of pastries there has been a real interest in savoury snacking bread rolls. At 70g the B’Break range has been ticking lots of boxes. In 2019 Bridor introduced Marinated Tomato & Rosemary and Bacon & Cheese Rolls – these joined the existing Chorizo and Olive & Rosemary Rolls. With a high percentage of inclusions these savoury treats deliver intense flavours throughout the day and have been a real hit.

Internationally inspired flavours are having a significant impact on the food to go market. At Bridor this is reflected in an ethos to ‘Share the bakery cultures of the world’. Some of Bridor’s products, including 2020’s NPD reflect this trend. From German to South American and Nordic countries, bakery is embracing truly global influences.

“Wholesalers can capitalise on the growing demand for healthier food-to-go as consumers increasingly choose options that incorporate ingredients known for their nutritional benefits,” Inizan says. “In bakery products this is translating into products featuring a variety of nuts, seeds and ancient grains.”

Portion control continues to have an impact on food-to-go NPD. There is a move for manufacturers to create high quality but slightly smaller versions of popular lines. There is a balance to find between satisfying consumers’ appetite for indulgence and concerns about wellbeing and dietary intake.

Becci Eplett, Marketing Manager, Huhtamaki UK, comments: “Convenience continues to be a key driver for the Food To Go (FTG) Market, with demand pushing this sector over the £21bn mark and growth predicted to yet again outperform the wider Eating Out Market. It’s a dynamic and ever evolving market with FTG requirements now spreading across the day from breakfast, lunch, snacks and into dinner.”

To help operators to offer their customers the best possible FTG experience, Huhtamaki has the bestselling Taste Range.

Taste is specifically designed to meet the changing needs of this market and is already a favourite of FTG operators for the unique ability to cook or reheat food in some of the products in the range and then for customers to use the same pack to eat on the go.

The Taste range includes three packs, perfect for toasties, paninis and wraps and the clever design of the products means that they have excellent heat retention properties, to keep food hotter for longer. They are also suitable for use in an oven and/or microwave, so food can be cooked in the packs and served straight to customers who can then eat straight from the packs.

“Food to go is a really competitive space and operators need to ensure they offer their customers a great experience by serving food in perfect condition and using innovative products to keep them returning for more,” Eplett adds.

The Taste Range is produced by Huhtamaki in its Blackburn factory, it is made from sustainably sourced paper and can be recycled where facilities exist.

Jeremy Gilboy, Founder, St Pierre Groupe, comments: “The on-the-go treat sector is continuing to move at a rapid pace and is predicted to reach £23.4 billion in 2024.”

This is a 26% increase on 2019, which is double the 13% growth of the wider UK food and retail grocery market over the same period (IGD).

Independent retailers are particularly active in on-the-go treats, accounting for £2.9 billion sales in 2019, representing a 16.1% market share (IGD).

Sales are expected to increase to 3.8 billion in 2024. Growth is predominantly being driven by younger consumers looking for variety and convenient snacking options, with 18-25-year olds twice as likely as other age groups to buy food-to-go from their local convenience retailer (IGD).

The St Pierre ‘On-the-Go’ range has a wide variety of products tailored to different meal occasions, from Croissants and Pains au Chocolat for the morning, to Vanilla Brioche Swirls and Chocolate Chip Brioche Rolls for lunch and afternoons, and Caramel Waffles for general snacking and a treat for any time of day.

Consumers are also becoming more discerning. They are seeking delicious and convenient on-the-go and snacking products that are of a high quality and that will inspire them.

“As well as consumer demand for eating on-the-go showing no signs of slowing down, shoppers’ palates are becoming more sophisticated with consumers looking for products that engage them across a number of touch points, not just taste and convenience,” adds Gilboy. “To maximise sales, wholesalers should look to stock snacking products that cater for all times of the day from a breakfast or mid-morning pick me up, to an afternoon snack or late evening treat.”

There are a number of key trends in the snacking category, which wholesalers can capitalise on, including global flavours. St Pierre is a must-stock for wholesalers as a leading aspirational European bakery brand offering consumers a taste of Parisian café culture either in, or away from home. St Pierre’s longer shelf life also makes it ideal for wholesalers looking to reduce in-store food wastage.

Gilboy comments: “To help drive footfall for on-the-go ranges, we suggest wholesalers display products in a separate on-the-go section for visual impact.”

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