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For many, food to go is synonymous with lunch. This is for good reason – in the last three months, three in 10 eating out occasions consumed on the move were consumed at lunchtime.

Currently, less than one in 10 food to go occasions is consumed at dinner - but this might be about to change. In Q1 2022, six in 10 new food to go products launched were targeting “all day” occasions, with flexible suitability for different day parts. Fewer lunch-specific items have launched since 2020, with brands targeting wider appeal across different types of occasions rather than focusing on structured dayparts.

Café and bakery channels both underperform at dinner. The bakery channel stands out as the leader at breakfast, with leading operators including Greggs dominating this space with breakfast-focused meal deals and a large coffee offer.

While it’s currently a small share of the market for cafés and bakery, there is an opportunity for sandwich, bakery and café brands to grow FTG share at dinner occasions. The size of opportunity is proving tempting for innovative operators, with Greggs targeting growth at later dayparts with the launch of its dinner menu including pie, mash and gravy alongside chicken and wedges. Average spend for dinner on the go is just over £8, but almost double other day parts.

Operators within the bakery and sandwich channels can learn a lesson from front-runners in QSR. At dinner, the driver for choosing where to eat was familiarity (39% consider it a top reason for choosing an establishment, vs 34% importance at lunch). Value for money and a wide selection of options are also more important at dinner than other meals.

Familiarity, value and choice are key strengths of fast food players and are critical markers to hit in order to launch a successful dinner food to go offer. This highlights why Greggs is in a good position to launch an expanded daypart range. More hot, fresh and competitively priced options will broaden day-part appeal and justify higher price points.

Proximity, fast service and friendly service are less important to dinner food to go occasions compared to other dayparts, which highlights the likelihood that consumers will go further out of their way for a tempting option. The importance of fast, but not necessarily friendly service highlights the opportunity for technology and kiosk ordering to enhance the consumer experience.

The right product mix will be key to winning at later day parts. Burger and pizza have seen the strongest growth at dinner, up 2ppts, while curry continues to decline in share. This Burger growth displays the dominance of McDonald’s in the food to go space at dinner.

While value for money is an important driver, this doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, with three in four consumers willing to pay a higher price for a higher quality product. There are opportunities to drive spending on food to go through more premium products. The low ticket nature of food to go means that the segment is well placed to retain consumer spending amid heightened financial pressures.

Operators can position food to go as a more affordable eating out occasion with consumers spending an average -47% less on food to go compared to an eating out occasion. There is an opportunity to grow spending through premiumisation with consumers purchasing food to go as a treat increasing at breakfast, dinner and snack occasions.

Greggs isn’t alone in eyeing up this untapped space. Pret A Manger has made various ventures into dinner. 2020 saw Pret roll out its delivery-only “Dinners by Pret” evening meal service to 30 sites around London, having previously trialled the offer across seven of its UK stores. The hot dinner menu will featured Thai-style curries, focaccia pizzas and burritos, alongside pastas and soups. Although the roll out of this initiative has been put on ice, 2022 could be the year to reignite similar innovations.

There are also smaller players getting involved. International Korean hot dog brand of Myungrang will make its UK debut with a site in Islington’s newly refurbished Angel Central later this year. Hitting trends for hot, premium and international flavours, this opening could signify an increased appetite for later dayparts.

The opportunity for later day-part expansion won’t be suitable for all. More working from home is set to be a lasting legacy of the pandemic and will result in lower footfall in key food to go areas such as office districts and city centres. However, two-thirds of the UK are not able or not planning to work from home going forwards. For those that are, fewer days in the office has resulted in a higher willingness to trade-up within foodservice, rather than brining lunch in from home.

Find out more about Lumina Intelligence’s UK Food To Go Market Report 2022 here