MCA explores the trends influencing the new spring/summer launches from the UK’s leading food to go brands and how they stack up against competition from the grocery retailers.

It’s that time of year when new spring and summer menu items are hitting the chiller cabinets of food to go retailers and coffee shop operators – all jostling for position with the giants of the grocery retail world. So which cuisine trends have been influencing NPD, what’s new on the menus of food to go retailers this spring, and what’s being seen from the competition?

Health-led trends have been driving a lot of the new product development of food and drinks to go for several years now. In fact, two thirds of all new products surveyed in Q1 2023, were aligned with healthier and plant-based diets – although this has dropped back on 2022 levels, according to Lumina Intelligence’s recently published Food to Go Market Report 2023.

Thirty-nine percent of new product launches in the first quarter of this year were vegan, down from 49% in the first quarter of 2022, with 33% coming under the healthier eating banner this year, compared to 46%. There was also a big increase in the number of high protein items – featuring on 25% of all launches compared to 8% last year.

Sandwiches and salads were the most common new products introduced in the first quarter, indicating a clear focus on lunch, with toasted sandwiches and hot boxes seeing a notable increase.

In terms of cuisine, Asian accounted for five of the top 10 new items, with Italian accounting for four of the top 10 – both seeing notable growth in Q1 2023 vs. Q1 2022.

Itsu’s Warm Salad Chicken’Low for example, introduced as new in April 2023, and priced at £7.49, is capitalising on a trend throughout the market for more all-encompassing and warm salads featuring balanced measures of proteins and carbohydrates, Katie Prowse, senior insight manager at Lumina Intelligence tells MCA.

The dish: Miso marinated chicken, wholegrain brown rice, greens, ssamjang veg mix, sesame dressing and pumpkin seeds, with a Korean inspired ‘ssamjang’ sauce, captures the more recent trend to include Korean influences as well as longer-term trends for Asian flavours, including miso and sesame.

“It feels more sophisticated than current grocery retailer alternatives though it does carry a price point almost double that of Tesco and Sainsbury’s meal deals,” she adds.

For Prowse, another brand capitalising on current cuisine trends is Pret A Manger. It launched a Scandi Style Salmon Roll at the beginning of the year, priced at £5.10, tapping into the rise in the popularity of Scandinavian cuisine over the past few years, as illustrated by the continued roll out of Ole & Steen.

The roll features sliced radish and pickled onions, “with the pickled vegetables exploding on menus over the past 18 months or so”, Prowse says. “It is perhaps a tad more aspirational than Tesco’s respectable ‘finest smoked Scottish salmon & cream cheese sandwich’ on offer in its new premium meal deal at £5.50 for non-club card members.”

It’s that extra flare and sophistication, and more distinguishable cuisine influences, that make the items from the branded operators really stand out from the everyday, she adds.

While a lot of the new product development in the grab and go space is focused on lunch, breakfast is a growing day part and has also seen its fair share of innovation. For example, Leon launched its Vegan Sausage Muffin in January, for £4.49, while new hot drinks have included a new Caramel Latte from Greggs – launched in April for £2.40, closely followed by a Cinnamon Swirl Latte and Cinnamon Flat White.

Hot drinks give food to go specialists the ability to offer a wider range of meal deals – but is something the grocery retailers are catching on to, with Sainsbury’s expanding its meal deal offer to include a Costa Coffee drink for stores that feature a kiosk, Prowse says, “and this is expected to be a future development for other stores and offers”.

One area that food to go specialists have the upper hand in is customisation. It’s been a big trend of late and as well as giving customers the ability to either partly or fully customise their dishes, it boosts freshness credentials as well, she says.

One example, from earlier this year, was the launch of customisable pizzas from Greggs. Launched in January for £2.30, the new addition also helped to extend the food to go retailer’s appeal into the evening.

What’s new for spring/summer 2023?

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Leon is tapping into the popularity of Italian cuisine, with Mediterranean influences at the core of its new menu.

New products include Sicilian-influenced Truffle and Mushroom Arancini (£3.99), made with mozzarella, truffle and chestnut and porcini mushrooms in a crisp gluten-free crumb, served with Leon’s classic tomato sauce for dipping.

It has launched several new salads – each of which has a fibre-packed ‘greens and grains’ base of leafy greens, lentils and grains. The Aioli Chicken salad comes in at £6.99 and is made with chargrilled chicken thigh, aioli, and a sprinkling of sumac, fresh pomegranate and lemon wedge.

While its Sunshine Squash Salad (£5.99) has 20 different varieties of plants. The squash is roasted in cumin and rapeseed oil and is finished with pink kraut, sumac, fresh mint and parsley.

Crossing over the Atlantic it has also taken inspiration from the tropics, with a Caribbean Chicken Curry (£7.49), featuring chicken thigh, sweet potato and kale in a creamy coconut sauce, with lime and habanero chilli.

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Pret has just launched its biggest new menu in four years, with 20 new items for spring. But rather than focusing on just one cuisine trend it has been inspired by tastes and flavours from around the world.

New salads include a Korean-style Chilli Chicken Salad – tapping into the trend for Asian food, and Korean in particular, as well as a Vietnamese-style Prawn Salad, a Mexican-style Chipotle Chickpea Salad and a Greek Salad.

The range also features a Korean-Style Chicken & Slaw Wrap, Curried Chickpea & Mango Wrap, Avo Brunch Rye Roll, Pret’s Coronation Chicken Bloomer and Veggie New Yorker Bloomer.

For those looking for a hot sandwich option there is a Spicy Salami Toastie and a Pesto, Mozzarella & Roasted Tomato Toastie. There are also vegan options of a Korean Style Sticky Mushroom salad, Coronation Egg Bloomer and Korean Style Mushroom & Avocado wrap.

Pret is also taking advantage of another big trend – indulgence, according to Lumina, which is a big draw for consumers looking for comfort when times are tough. Its three new desserts comprise: Salted Caramel Dessert Pot, Black Forest Dessert Pot and Chocolate Espresso Cake.

Commenting on the new menu, Katherine Bagshaw, UK food and coffee director at Pret says: “From researching food trends to sourcing the right spices, we’re really proud of the quality and variety we’re offering our customers, from Pret twists on classics to innovative new dishes inspired by global cuisines.”

In addition to the launch of its new hot drinks, Greggs has also introduced several new food items to its menu and has made a point of highlighting the fact it is working to increase the number of plant-based and healthier menu items.

It launched a Vegan Mexican Chicken-Free Bake last month, featuring chicken-free pieces, mixed vegetables and a Mexican-style tomato sauce, and last week introduced the first of a new range of flatbreads.

A Mexican chicken flatbread has been launched first and will be followed by a Chicken Shawarma flatbread and vegan tandoori chicken-free option. It will also be introducing a new sweet chilli chicken noodle salad box this summer.

Turning to the coffee shop operators, much of the innovation that has taken place has understandably been around their drinks ranges.

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The big, and much publicised, launch from Starbucks this spring has been its Oleato range of arabica coffees, infused with extra virgin olive oil, which launched in select London stores earlier this month.

There are three new beverages in the range: Oleato Golden Foam, Cold Brew, Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso and Oleato Caffè Latte, which retail at £5.65, £5.45 and £4.65, based on a ‘tall’ sized cup.

Other new drinks include a Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew at £4.15 and Mango Dragonfruit Starbucks Refresha – shaken with ice and finished with diced dragonfruit pieces (£4.20).

New food items include brownie bites – in Cookies & Cream, White Chocolate & Raspberry Blondie and Miso Caramel flavours, and there are several returning products such as the Spinach & Pea Falafel Wrap (£3.80), Steak & Cheese Panini (£4.85) and plant-based Raspberry & Almond Mini Loaf (£2.60).

Nero Italian spritz

Taking inspiration from a certain popular, orange-coloured, aperitif, Caffè Nero’s new summer menu includes an alcohol-free Italian spritz – made with sweet Sicilian lemonade, zesty orange syrup and soda water, as well as a volcanic coffee.

The single origin coffee is named after its place of origin – El Salvador, in central America, and has notes of nutty almonds, sweet honey, and vibrant tropical fruits.

New items also include a Tropical FroYo Frappe Crème – a lower calorie frappe crème made with yoghurt, and it recently launched a cherry iced latte.

“Last year our Pistachio Iced Latte was our best seller, and our new Cherry Iced Latte looks set to surpass it,” Will Stratton-Morris, CEO at Caffè Nero UK, comments on the developments to the range.

“We focus a lot on creating new and innovative drinks which really tap into the feeling and taste of summer, playing on flavours customers love, but also giving them something new and innovative to try.”

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Costa Coffee has introduced a new Blueberry Bubble Frappé, made with a jammy blueberry flavoured sauce and sugar-free vanilla syrup, while its Tropical Mango Bubble Frappé re-joins the line-up for this summer.

There is a new Mango Berry Bubble Tea and an iced whipped latte, available in vanilla, salted caramel or chocolate flavour, and three new Refresher drinks: Watermelon and Mint, Apple and Rhubarb, and Blood Orange and Yuzu.

New food items include Caramelised Red Onion & Mature Cheddar Pizzetta and Grilled Pepper, Mozzarella & Pesto Pizzetta – tapping into the popularity of Italian cuisine, as well as a Neapolitan muffin.

Other new additions are an Eton Mess Blondie, Salted Caramel Popcorn Brownie and Belgium Chocolate Chunk Cookie, highlighting again the indulgent nature of many of the dessert and sweet treat launches.

The competition:

As part of Sainsbury’s new spring/summer launches, several new items for the food to go consumer were launched last week within its Taste the Difference range, including a chorizo, nduja and mozzarella sandwich with rocket and garlic aioli, for £4.25. It is inspired by Spanish tapas, with the filling sandwiched between two slices of tomato bread.

Continuing the Mediterranean theme there is a roasted veg, mozzarella and pesto sandwich, made with onion bread and a Shawarma chicken and tabbouleh salad, with crispy chickpeas, pink pickled onions and a tahini dressing.

Within its recently launched Flourish range – a new healthy range of dishes introduced in January – are options such as lemon and pesto chicken sandwiches, and tuna, sweet potato and egg salad for £4 – or they can be included as part of its £5 meal deal.


Meanwhile Tesco introduced a number of new items to coincide with the launch of its premium meal deal in March, which offers a premium main, snack and drink for Clubcard members for £5. Additions include the Tesco Finest Roast Beef, West Country Cheddar & Truffle Mayo Tiger Roll, the Tesco Finest Chicken & N’duja Wrap and the YO! Rainbow Salmon Poke.

The retailer has also recently added a series of limited-edition mains to its standard food to go meal deal, specifically for summer. These include a Tesco Chipotle Chicken Sandwich, Chicken Shawarma Wrap, Smoky BBQ Chicken Sub, Pulled Beef and Burger Slaw Sub, Fajita Chicken Wrap – again hitting those trends for global taste and flavours.