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September 23, 2020

UK food-to-go market forecast to decline as work-from-home policy curtails demand

The UK food-to-go-market is expected to decline by almost half this year before "bouncing" back somewhat in the following 12 months.

By Dean Best

The UK food-to-go-market is expected to decline by almost half this year to GBP10.8bn (US$13.7bn) before “bouncing” back somewhat in the following 12 months.

That’s the prediction from UK-based charity IGD, which provides insights for the country’s food industry, as the social-distancing restrictions imposed on the population and work-from-home policies curtail the number of shoppers looking for a quick or lunchtime snack.

The 43% decline forecast by IGD for this year, in consultation with players in the food sector, represents about GBP8.1bn. And while the charity anticipates a pick-up next year, the food-to-go market will only return to about 88% of 2019 levels valued at GBP16.7bn.

Waning demand in the sector is already hitting companies operating in food-to-go, such as Ireland’s Greencore, which experienced a drop off in demand even during the early months of the UK-wide lockdown that kicked off in March.

Greencore, the Ireland-based manufacturer that is one of the largest private-label suppliers in the UK, has seen its sales drop by around 40% in recent weeks amid a coronavirus-linked slump in demand for food-to-go products.

Nicola Knight, a senior food-to-go analyst at IGD, said: “Unsurprisingly, since the UK went into lockdown, almost all food-to-go shopping trips experienced significant declines. Where previous forecasts saw the sector growing at twice the rate of grocery retail, 2020 has seen a rapid change in consumer behaviours and daily routines that could have long-term implications.
“Footfall in cities and transport hubs – on which many food-to-go businesses depend – has so far been slow to return. The shift to more homeworking in particular has had massive implications for food-to-go. Specialist operators with sites prevalent in affected locations are already adapting strategies to offset this long-term change in consumer behaviour.”

IGD said food-to-go businesses will have to adapt to the prospect that more people will now continue to work from home under a “new normal”, and made suggestions such as providing lunch boxes for home workers or picnics for outdoor socialising.

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