Our food-to-go trend predictions for 2021

Date : 13 January 2021

Nicola Knight

Senior Analyst - Food-To -Go

During 2020, food-to-go retailers and specialists alike had to rethink every element of their food-to-go offering to adapt to the changes in consumer behaviour brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has led to a period of intense innovation as businesses seek to develop propositions that can survive the short-term unpredictability of changing restrictions and win in the long term as the repercussions on lifestyles and habits are realised.

This balance is reflected in the trends we believe will drive food-to-go in 2021 and beyond.

Our trends to watch in 2021

These are the trends we believe will underpin investment and development by food-to-go retailers, operators and manufacturers during 2021.  Retail Analysis subscribers can read the full report, including implications for suppliers, here.

Suburban shift

Following the office worker and commuter food-to-go customer as work-from-home guidance during the pandemic sets the scene for a longer-term shift.  

Suburban customers will have different routines, motivations and needs to commuter and office worker customers.  New models based on variations on mission mix, channel mix, footfall flow, range, pricing, service and in-store environment will be needed.

Convenience stores are well-placed at the heart of communities to benefit from this shift, leading to opportunities to partner up with food-to-specialists to share overheads.  Competition for the best partners could intensify during the year.

Leading the way:

Delivering value - profitably

This trend is all about balancing the competing factors of attracting financially stretched food-to-go consumers whilst improving business financial health.

In 2021 more food-to-go missions are likely to be discretionary vs core as some consumers cut back on food-to-go lunches, drinks and snacks as they move around less, work more from home or to save money.  This will lead to more and new ways to make food-to-go affordable through the mechanics of promotions, meal deals, pack size changes and product reformulation.

At the same time, food-to-go businesses (particularly those operators hardest hit by lockdowns) need to protect margin so will focus on all levers to improve efficiency. This could have far reaching implications for format, staff, service and back-of-house operations, including the increased use of technology to deliver efficiency (see the full report for examples of how this could play out).

Leading the way:

From omnichannel to unified commerce

After fast-tracking digital development during the pandemic, food-to-go businesses will need to focus on how to offer a seamless brand experience to customers – across all channels.

The pandemic has caused many more food-to-go businesses to become omnichannel, i.e. serving customers in multiple ways - in store, click and collect through an app, via third party delivery companies or as a retail product.  Unified commerce relies on seamlessly connecting customer data and product data through all these channels. This connected commerce approach allows for more personalised customer experiences, better forecasting and operational planning and higher customer satisfaction. 

However, food-to-go businesses will have to overcome barriers such as disconnected internal systems and the use of partners (e.g. delivery companies) who don’t share data.  

Leading the way:

Format diversity

Food-to-go retailers and operators will seek to adapt stores to serve consumers with new and different priorities during and post-COVID-19.
This will lead to more diversity in format strategy under one brand umbrella and more formats with specific roles (e.g. digital only, dark kitchen, vending, experience-led) operating as a network and balancing cost, service and brand experience.

Leading the way:

Rebalancing of power

The pandemic has not affected all food-to-go businesses equally leading to shifts in the balance of relationships and who has the ability to take advantage of opportunities.

We’ve already seen retailers around the world taking aggressive action to retain out-of-home spend gained during the pandemic by upweighting their foodservice offer, including food-to-go.  Generally, retailers have performed well financially during the crisis whilst the impact on many foodservice businesses has been severe.  As the ability to invest in new developments favours retailers we expect to see more partnerships between retail and food-to-go specialists as both seek to adapt to meet changing consumer needs.

Leading the way:

Want to know more about the future of food-to-go

*available to Retail Analysis subscibers