The number of food to go outlets is forecast to grow by 0.6% this year, following modest growth of 0.2% in 2020, according to Lumina Intelligence’s new UK Food to Go Market Report.

The market has seen outlet growth of between 1% and 1.8% over the past five years, with 152,794 outlets in operation last year. This number is expected to rise to 153,723 in 2021, with growth driven by traditional fast food, coffee shop, and sandwich and bakery retailers in particular.

While expansion was minimal last year, operators in leading food to go channels, including the likes of Greggs, Costa and Co-op, have continued to expand and have been evolving their property strategies to suit changing consumer needs, with drive-thru and out of town site an increasing focus over the past few years.

“Following a period of constrained growth, channels including sandwich & bakery, coffee shops/cafés and fast food are expected to return to stronger growth as there is greater availability of property for more affordable rents,” Katherine Prowse, insight manager at Lumina Intelligence told MCA.

“It is expected that for many operators outlet strategies will shift from prime city-centre real estate to more out of town travel and neighbourhood sites including drive-thru and retail park sites.”

Supermarket grab and go, branded traditional fast food and food to go in the travel space are expected to be some of the channels seeing the strongest recovery to 2019 values this year, by 78.2%, 71.7% and 82.6% respectively.

The value of the food to go market declined by 45.5% in value in 2020, to £11.6bn, due to the restrictions in place in the pandemic – compared to a decline in the total eating out market of 48.6% to £47bn last year. However the food to go market is expected to claw back 72% of its 2019 value this year to reach £15.3bn, before returning to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

According to the report, food to go is well place to recover due to its to-go nature meaning interactions are low contact, as well as the fact the sector is relatively low-ticket in terms of purchases. It also identified that some of the shorter-term challenges for the sector will evolve into longer term opportunities, such as outdoor socialising, hybrid working patterns and the coffee opportunity.

Prowse added: “The continuation of home and hybrid work patterns for many and the rise in outdoor socialising will result in changes to the ways in which consumers will interact with food to go.

“Portable food to go solutions will strike appeal with consumers meeting friends/family in parks, whereas a shift in focus on food to ‘go home’, will provide a relevant solution to those home working.”

Blonnie Whist, head of insight at Lumina revealed some of the highlights from the report at MCA’s recent Food to Go Conference. To watch the session and others from the conference click here.