Food quality is the key need for food to go consumers at breakfast and lunch, trumping value, location and fast service, the latest MCA data has shown.

MCA’s Food To Go Tracker Q1 2016 also shows food quality/taste as the fourth most important factor in driving snacking visits – which account for over half of total food to go visits. The top need in the snacking segment is fast service, followed by previous experience, cheap/inexpensive prices; food quality and convenient locations.

In terms of how customers perceive the main food to go brands on these metrics, Greggs was top for speed of service, convenient location and value money, while it was tied with Subway for food quality/taste. In fact, of eight key performance indicators highlighted by MCA, Greggs tops all but drink quality/taste (led by Caffe Nero) and menu choice (Subway).

The report shows unprecedented demand for food to go with over a third of purchases now bought to go, up from just over a quarter two years ago. The average spend per visit also rose in Q1 across all the major food to go day parts.

While supermarkets and convenience stores remain the biggest channel, fast food has seen the strongest growth of any channel – with visit frequency increasing from 0.7 per head a month a year ago to 1.0 in the latest period, with only supermarkets to-go visited more often.

McDonald’s is the top brand at breakfast, although its share of the market fell from 18.2% in Q1 2015 to 16.4% this year. At lunch Greggs also lost share – from 14.2% to 12.9%. In the snacking category – where all top five brands gained share – first placed Tesco grew from 9.5% of the market in 2015 to 12% this year.

In terms of reasons for visits, the report shows the morning commute is the main mission for breakfast to go visits, while work/study breaks are growing in importance for breakfast and the biggest mission at lunch. The data shows appealing as a treat can encourage additional food to go purchases in between meals, with a fifth of snack missions to ‘have a treat’.

MCA’s head of consumer insight, Gareth Nash, said: “Food to go continues to thrive and, as Brexit concerns loom large, I would suggest that we are likely to see further opportunities for success in this area. Cautious consumers are likely to cut back on higher spend dine-in occasions and look for less expensive solutions such as buying food to go. Yet, as the data suggests, this does not mean operators and retailers can cut corners on quality, as this remains the most important factor driving consumer choice on meal to go occasions.”

The full Food To Go Tracker looks at key performance indicators for the top brands, breaks down demographics of customers and looks at the top food and drink items consumed on food to go visits and where they were purchased.

For more information contact sophie.barber@mca-insight.com