By tracking consumer eating out behaviour, through the Eating Out Panel, we are able to see that participation in eating out is on the increase; having gone through a period of decline in 2013, consumer numbers who are participating in eating out has reached their highest level since the end of 2012, at 92.6%.

This reads well for the total market, especially as growth is coming from breakfast and lunch day-parts rather than the traditional Dinner occasion. There is a chicken and egg scenario with this rise, as more operators stretch their offers to cover all day-parts, more consumers are taking it up.

However, it isn’t all plain sailing as the Eating Out Panel data shows that average spend for each day-part is in decline; the value legacy from the recession, and the effect of austerity cuts has an impact on consumer spending, despite the fact that they have more disposable income now than they have ever had - £185 per week according to the ASDA income tracker.

The effects of significant price decreases in food, energy and fuel has pushed inflation down to zero, which should encourage consumers to spend more on eating and drinking out, however it is believed that consumers are using this (short-term) break to pay off debt or purchase white goods that have been held off for some time. Consumer confidence is at a highpoint, but this hasn’t fed through into eating and drinking out spend.

One of the examples used at the Forum debrief was that of Greggs. Delivering great annual figures with LfL own-store sales up 4.5%, it appears to be food to go that is driving Greggs’ growth. Coffee sales now amount to c.£1m revenues each week, and they have also managed to encourage consumers to switch purchases into their ‘Balanced Choices’ healthier range. However the one telling point from Greggs was that there was growing consumer participation in value deals. The food to go market is incredibly competitive and consumers know how to find a bargain.

In comparison to the Pub and Restaurant sectors, these LfL figures from Greggs are exceptional; the Coffer Peach Business Tracker reports through the first quarter that LfLs were up c. 1.5% in January and February but slightly down in March, despite a healthy increase at Easter. Recent updates from Greene King show sales increases up only 0.4%, which highlights the challenges that the more traditional sector faces, even though their own Leisure Tracker shows that eating out and drinking out spending is on the increase.

Overall, M&C Allegra forecasts for the total UK foodservice market to grow at 2.9% for 2015, with the food to go elements of that market growing at the significantly higher rate of 4.8%, rising to a total value of £22bn. Demand-side push for food to go is driving this growth, with a growing population, rising mobility, higher employment levels, and consumers seeking more informal, less structured food occasions, fitting in with busier lifestyles.

From a Supply-side perspective, greater availability of food to go within convenience stores, and grocery operators putting more effort into convenience stores, plus the rise of street food, and more choice when it comes to hot, hand-held food to go, are all factors in encouraging consumers to eat on the go.

One of the key factors that have driven the success of food to go is the preponderance of meal deals. As breakfast and lunch meal occasions tend to be more functional rather than sociable, the demand for value is heightened; grocery operators within the food to go market are supplying really low priced meal deals that do deliver a great sense of value, and this is meeting consumer’s demands. This then leads to greater competition for operators such as Pret, Subway and Greggs; their way to fight it is either through better quality, as Pret does, or through equivalent meal deals, which both Subway and Greggs are doing very effectively.

The Eating Out Panel data shows that when it comes to consumers buying with a promotion, discount voucher or meal deal, food to go purchases are a similar proportion to those eat-in, dining purchases, although the mixture of deal changes dramatically; 50% of purchases of food to go, bought with some form of promotion, are with a meal deal, versus an average of 30% of all consumption occasions.

So value is critically important for the food to go market however the Eating Out Panel data shows that ‘Convenience of Location’ is the most important factor when choosing a location, and ‘Food Quality & Taste’ is the second most important. No operator can neglect that value is often derived from meeting needs effectively, and that includes great quality food.

As we go further forward from 2015 towards 2018, M&C Allegra forecasts further growth, with a CAGR rate of 4.5%, and a future market value of c.£25bn. Product developments for Food To Go are going to focus on greater hot, hand-held items, further innovation in snacking options along with fresher, healthier goods, all with greater provenance.

M&C Allegra expects that the market will develop further with a greater number of street food operators and pop-up concepts looking to muscle in on the growth opportunities; we’ll also see expansion from the likes of Greggs, Pret and Eat. There will be far more focus on meeting the needs of consumers for different day-parts, and more operators from traditional sectors such as pubs and restaurants aiming at this sector with Food To Go offers, wider opening hours, greater coffee focus, and quicker service times.