Working revolution could mean food-to-go sales turn stale

Working revolution could mean food-to-go sales turn stale

Covid-19 is likely to shake up how we work, with more companies set to allow their staff to do their jobs at home more often. Food-to-go, hammered during the lockdowns of March, April and May could face longer-lasting pressure on sales, GlobalData argues.

Many office workers may jump at the chance to avoid being crammed into public transport like cattle every morning, dodging people on the sidewalk, getting into the office for 9am, and then repeating the whole thing again eight hours later only in reverse. But what would a work-from-home revolution, catalysed by Covid-19, mean for food-to-go, which has already seen sales slump in recent weeks?

A shift of this nature would have a few immediate ramifications. Firstly, city-centre newsagents and convenience stores would immediately lose the often impulse-driven, pre- and post-work purchases from commuters who are simply there because they work nearby. Outlets like these only exist in such high concentrations because of the 9-to-5; why else would thousands of people be walking down the same roads at the exact same time?

Besides the obvious drop in footfall in urban centres, there would be another issue that is more emblematic of the way the consumer goods sector is shaped to our routine. Many FMCG products are designed with the archetypal 'commuter' in mind. Think of cereal bars, breakfast smoothies, RTD iced-coffees, even bottled water. Anything designed to be purchased and consumed whilst walking from one place to another could see sales suffer should the shift to more people working from home more often become a longer-lasting change. 

Indeed, for many office workers, the idea of visiting a shop to buy just your lunch or just a drink seems like a distant memory. At home, you can make your own sandwich, and get water from a tap. Unlike other food products, it is unlikely anyone will be adding a GBP3 meal-deal to their online shopping order at the moment – or going forward – no matter how fondly they remember them.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that, even once lockdown ends, half of all the social-media giant's employees will continue to work from home. Twitter's similar move, in which the company announced many employees would never return to the office, was described in The New York Times as 'their most disruptive move yet'.

There is a chance the tech giants may inspire other employers to follow suit, if for no other reason than to save costs. The number of people working from home in the US doubled between February and April 2020 according to Forbes, with many new home-workers reporting they would be happy to continue with this new arrangement.

The flexibility of office hours has long been under the spotlight in our increasingly digital world, with many viewing the standard 9-5 as a relic from the 20th century, stuck to out of habit rather than necessity. 

Though it may seem obvious that the titans of Silicon Valley have jumped at the chance for an internet-based 'revolution', it is not in everyone's interest for this trend to become the new orthodoxy – not least food-to-go manufacturers, no matter how sanguine they try to sound about the future.