Customisation, convenience and sustainability are the three trends that will have the biggest impact on the food to go sector, Itsu brand and marketing director Jemima Ferguson told delegates at MCA’s Food To Go conference last week.

In order to meet the demand for these trends, Ferguson revealed that the healthy eating brand will be trialling a number of new digitally enhanced concepts. “Our model has to change fundamentally,” she said, “and tech will be the enabler.”

Ferguson predicts that consumers will increasingly want to customise based on not only taste and flavour, but also appetite. And with the rise in vegan and flexitarian diets, as well as an increased concern with allergens, menus will need to become more flexible, customisable and transparent, she said.

To address this, Itsu’s ‘Store of the Future’ on London’s Greenchurch Street is trialling several operating initiatives. The sushi fridge has been removed, instead, everything is behind the counter and consumers are encouraged to browse digital menus to order their dish.

The store offers the highest percentage of hot food of any Itsu. A majority of items are made fresh on demand to enable customisation, and subsequently consumers customise 10 times more in this location than anywhere else in its estate.

Ferguson added that at times, the three key trends can appear to directly contrast each other.

“If we demand what we want when we want, that won’t always be the most sustainable way of doing things,” she said, but Itsu intends to develop its operating model to improve all three issues in tandem.

Not only is the brand looking to roll out a mobile order and pay app and standalone collection kiosks to speed up the consumer journey, it is also pushing new ideas that prioritise sustainability.

“If we adopt our operating model to have more vegan options that require meat-eaters to add their chicken onto, we’ll sell far less meat. If we don’t need a fridge because people are browsing on our screens, we’ll use less energy, and won’t need plastic packaging that allows people to see what they’re buying,” she said.

Itsu also sells an aluminium refill flask and ‘spork for life,’ but says that in the existing consumer mindset there is still a demand for single-use water bottles and plastic sporks.

“If we took the single use spoons away today there would be complete chaos and outrage from customers,” she explained.

“It’s in challenges like this where there’s a real conflict with convenience, and we need a mindset shift more than ever before in order to go on the journey together. The best solutions are those that compromise on both sides.”