15 January 2020, 09:44 AM
  • Sally-Jayne Wright explains how this means more competition than ever for indie retailers
The fast food boom

Did somebody say Just Eat? If you haven’t heard this jingle, you haven’t been paying attention. The food-to-go sector is growing at almost twice the rate of the overall economy, much of it driven by younger urban consumers’ desire for convenience. Takeaways now account for 15% of consumer spending on food with the total spend in 2018 £12.5 billion, up from £10.6 billion in 2015.

I RUN A DELI, NOT A FRIED CHICKEN SHOP. WHY SHOULD I CARE?
If an office worker uses their Deliveroo for Business company allowance to order a lunch delivery, that’s money they’re not spending with you.

WHAT’S BEHIND THE TAKEAWAY TREND?
Clever marketing to convince us we’re time-poor. Plus the decline of several casual dining chains such as Jamie’s Italian which has boosted demand. Consumers have discovered the addictive luxury of having a Vietnamese noodle soup – or even toast and Marmite – delivered to their desk or doorstep. Over half of home delivery and takeaway orders are placed online.

AND WHAT’S THE TREND WITHIN THE TREND?
Healthy convenience. Consumers are increasingly demanding higher quality ingredients aligned with their dietary preferences (Euromonitor). The restaurant chain Leon was ahead of the trend when it launched in 2004 offering the kind of healthy fast food people wanted to make themselves – wholegrain rice with no waiting half an hour while it cooked, lentils (ditto), homemade baked beans, quality meatballs and burgers. Geared up for allergies and special diets, Leon allowed everyone to get their fast food fix.

WHO ARE THE MAIN DELIVERY PLAYERS?
In addition to large platforms like Just Eat, Takeaway.com and Deliveroo, there are Uber Eats, Feast and countless local and regional initiatives. London is the UK’s takeaway capital.

ARE ‘DARK KITCHENS’ KITCHENS WITHOUT WINDOWS?
Pioneered by Deliveroo in spring 2017 under the name Dark Editions, dark kitchens are industrial units where food of a particular kind, say Korean, is cooked. They are not restaurants and don’t take guests. They allow a delivery company to provide a certain style of cooking in an area where they have identified demand but no restaurants of that type.

IF OUR DELI IS LOSING LUNCHTIME TRADE BECAUSE WE CAN’T DELIVER, SHOULD WE SIGN UP WITH UBER EATS OR SIMILAR?
Only if you can afford up to 30% commission. Our off-the-record interviewees hinted that even if turnover looks attractive, it can be hard to work out if you’re actually making money once you factor in delivery costs, discounts and returns. John Warren, buyer at Partridges said, “Deliveroo approached us in 2018 as did a number of start-ups. But we have our own delivery van and still rely on local customers. They phone or email through their lunch orders in the morning, we collate them and off we go. No hot food because we would have to ensure the food was delivered piping hot. We’re probably missing out on a proportion of customers but it comes down to logistics.”

SO SHOULD WE STOP DOING MORTADELLA AND CHEESE AND OFFER BURGERS INSTEAD?
You could offer them in addition. Bayley & Sage deli at London’s Parson’s Green has a grill outside the shop where a different hot takeaway is served every day. Lunches cost £6 and include chicken Caesar wrap, falafels and beef burgers with blue cheese. Manager Paulie Cruz said, “We started offering takeaways in summer and it was so successful we now do them all year round.”

WHICH CUISINE IS MOST POPULAR?
Chinese, with Indian second. Vegan meals are the fastest growing choice, with orders rising almost fivefold over the last two years.

ANY OTHER IDEAS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF THE FAST FOOD TREND?
Sales of hot meals increase in winter which means porridge, soup, stew, chilli or vegan katsu curry. Vegan dishes do particularly well in January when many resolve to eat less meat. Don’t wait for customers to ‘discover’ you do hot takeaway. Offer tasters, text customers or have a table outside the shop. Can you copy Deliveroo’s company ‘allowance’ giving a small discount on larger orders?

ANY PRODUCTS WE SHOULD STOCK?
Houmous, vegetable soup and ready meals provide fast healthy lunches for the office fridge or microwave. We like Precious Pea houmous – their bestseller is turmeric with dried fruit – and Cuzena, a houmous made from fava beans. Re-Nourish, a re-heatable soup brand started by a former cardiac nurse, tastes as good as home-made. We also like the ready meals created by Christina Baskerville of Easy Bean.

WILL THE HEALTHY FAST FOOD TREND LAST?
Four in 10 takeaway restaurant owners are first-time entrepreneurs (British Takeaway Campaign) and a percentage won’t survive. Shortage of chefs is a big challenge. The trend for healthy competition including street food markets and multinationals will continue. Trend Watch’s local Marks & Spencer in London’s Battersea was refurbished recently and when it reopened, it had an in-store pizza oven and hot chicken to go. That tells you all you need to know.

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