How food to go shopping habits are changing now

07 February 2022, 12:42 PM
  • Signs have emerged that certain pre-pandemic shopping trends are coming back to the fore
How food to go shopping habits are changing now

Has your café, deli counter or takeaway drinks offering been busier than usual over the last few weeks? If so, your shop is likely benefitting from the return of on-the-go food and drink purchases. 

Food industry experts at Kantar said food to go product sales were likely to be higher in January than during the same time last year, when the UK was still in the midst of Lockdown 3.

“Increasing confidence about heading out and about, combined with the return to the office, means we’re starting to see pre-pandemic shopping patterns once again,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight for Kantar Worldpanel Division, UK. 

“Since the first lockdown in March 2020, shoppers have been buying in bulk and visiting the supermarket less often. But basket sizes are now 10% smaller than this time last year, hitting their lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic, while footfall increased by 5% as every major retailer was busier in their stores,” he continued. Thanks to elevated levels of local shopping, independents are no doubt feeling these changes too.

The shifting habits were most apparent in London, Kantar found, where data suggested “people in the capital were the quickest to embrace eating out in cafés, pubs and restaurants, as many of us returned to city centres”.

While these trends are boosting hospitality businesses, confidence is extending to brick-and-mortar retail premises too. Online grocery purchases were down 15% year-on-year, although they remain almost double the pre-pandemic proportion, accounting for 12.5% of all grocery spend.

Consumers indulge in treats

Data from Lumina Intelligence’s UK Food To Go Market Report 2021 revealed that food to go accounted for more than one in four out of home eating occasions. From this, it’s evident that the food to go market offers opportunities for retailers even as consumer confidence around visiting restaurants grows.

Food to go consumers were more likely to be aged 25-34 (27%), to be female (55% vs 45%) and to be in London (17%) or the south east (12%). The leading mission driving food to go occasions was “out and about” (22%), while a treat was the second-largest occasion (14%), making the case for premium upsells

Shopper confidence tumbles

While signs are positive for the food to go sector, the impact of larger market forces could soon take effect. IGD ShopperVista’s latest Shopper Confidence Index revealed the lowest levels of confidence since its records began: -17 at the end of January, down from an average of -9 in December. “The removal of Covid-19 restrictions this month did nothing to improve shopper confidence due to cost-of-living concerns, and there is still space for it to decline further given the full effect of rising prices is yet to be felt,” said Rhian Thomas, head of shopper insight at IGD ShopperVista.

Consumers will be taking a more considered approach to their food shops, she explained: “We continue to believe that rising food and energy bills will hit the lowest affluence groups hardest, with ‘heating vs. eating’ becoming a genuine concern for the lowest earners. From our data we’re seeing shoppers indicate they’re spending more than they want to and buying less as a result. Going forward, businesses should prepare for shoppers being more planned in their shopping – eating more at home and looking to spend less day-to-day to save money and spend on what matters to them.” For food to go, the future is uncertain, but by focusing on small luxuries and treats with a difference, fine food retailers can find their niche in the market.

Want to learn more tips and tricks for your food to go offering? Download the latest issue of Café Buyer here.

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