Hot News! Food-to-go changes direction as growth begins to slow.


There’s no question about it, over recent years the food-to-go sector has enjoyed a long and uninterrupted run of success as we’ve witnessed major changes in our social and work-related patterns.

But while turnover still continues to grow, it’s no longer at the pace we’ve come to accept as the norm.

Are we falling out of love with the ‘grab-and-go’ mentality? Definitely not.

Have we lost our appetite for snacking in place of three square meals a day? It’s a “no” to that as well.

So what is it that’s slowing the growth in the market? And more importantly, where are the opportunities to respond to this change and make the FTG sector stronger and healthier than ever?

One thing is certain…uncertainty is a factor.

Wherever we look, Brexit looms! And with it comes a clouded crystal ball.

Right now, we have less idea than ever of the impact we can expect if, and when, a deal is finally done. Inevitably this is having a major effect on consumer confidence…in every sector of the economy.

Now add in rising costs, some of which can also be blamed on the Brexit fallout as a drop in the value of the pound pushes up the price of imports.

Result…declining consumer confidence, a reluctance to spend, and a growing policy of keeping a tighter grip on the purse strings until we know what the future has in store.

But this doesn’t just affect our major financial decisions. It affects the everyday ones too…like the money we’re prepared to spend on eating out in general, as evidenced by the wider trend in the total market where visit frequencies are down.

It also explains the growing evidence that ‘economising’ is leading to people bringing more food from home.

Now for the good news

Richard Thorpe, Head of Marketing & Insights at food ingredients giant, Ornua Ingredients UK, is a man who has to be one step ahead of every shift in our social and eating patterns.

“It’s an old chestnut, but it’s true”, says Thorpe. “The current situation is not so much a problem as an opportunity. And there is a massive opportunity waiting for this sector if it responds quickly to the way we are seeing a change in demand.”

“Today, all the indications are that hot food-to-go will be setting the pace. In fact, hot food is no longer just the traditional ‘sit down’ option, but is now the preferred route for many who are eating on the move.”

It seems consumers are shifting their horizons, moving away from cold, traditional sandwiches and salads, and opting instead for more internationally inspired ingredients and pairings.

In a nutshell, our customers are expecting more.

So who are we aiming at…

Perceived wisdom is that it’s younger customers who are usually the key to change. But on this occasion, it’s a different story.

The real opportunity lies with targeting those aged 45+, as they are a rapidly growing influence on the OOH market, and also more likely to buy ‘hot’.

And remember, the over 55’s now make up almost 30% of the population, and growing, representing a key group the FTG sector can ill-afford to ignore.

Other groups present fantastic opportunities too. It’s worth noting that 20% of the population has some sort of dietary requirement. Vegetarian is the largest, but vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian audiences are all responsive to new and tasty ways to expand their eating choices, as for that matter, is everyone else.

…and what should we be selling

Alan Mackie, OIUK’s Business Development Manager, deals with customers in the FTG sector. Not surprisingly, he highlights the important role Ornua’s ingredients can play.

“Snacking is no longer about eating between meals”, says Mackie. “In fact, 45% of ‘snacks’ are consumed as a meal replacement. So more than ever before, FTG must have real appetite appeal.”

“The demand for ‘hot on-the go’, and for real taste too, is driving producers to be much more inventive.”

“They’re using flatbreads, cornbreads, paninis and tortillas, where once a simple sliced loaf would suffice.”

“They’re filling and topping with more imaginative, more exotic ingredients. And you don’t need to look hard to realise that cheese is invariably the star.”

“Forget when the choice was simply grated or sliced. Today’s easily accessible cheese offering includes flavours from the US, South America and all of Europe’s cheese producing nations. Typically, ultra-convenient cheese slices now come in over a dozen different varieties.”

“And, best of all, cheese melts beautifully to create the tastes and textures that make hot food-to-go a real treat and not just a quick and easy solution.”

OIUK’s Thorpe is also quick to point out some of the other benefits.

“Remember, cheese isn’t just about fantastic taste. It’s fresh. It’s easy to store and use. It adds fabulous visual appeal. It’s ideal for satisfying the vegetarian market. And it ticks the all-important protein box too.”

Got the picture?

So, there you have it. FTG is still going strong, but change is in the air. The hot money is now on hot food-to-go, where there’s plenty of room for the imagination to run riot.

On the subject of which, there is one last footnote to this story.

Once upon a time, it was enough to produce delicious food, then let customers spread the word. But not any more.

Our social media world now dictates that food should look just as good as it tastes because someone, somewhere, is going to ‘snap’ it, post-it on line, and let the world in on all your secrets.

Enough said!

This article first appeared in Sandwich & Food-to-go News, Sept 2018

 Ornua Ingredients UK produces a regular Food Trends Update. For your free subscription, email