Restaurants, franchises, supermarkets and other food-service outlets have noticed a trend in the last several years: Customers increasingly desire (and need) to grab food and go. That’s why more outlets, especially limited-service brands, are investing in grab-and-go food options to complement their regular menus

Some companies are putting refrigeration units in their existing restaurants, while others are installing vending machines and kiosks in non-traditional locations like airports and malls. No matter the delivery, the food industry is taking note of a growing band of consumers who want delicious, fresh, exciting—but pre-packaged—food while moving from point A to point B.

Supermarket food counters are becoming increasingly common for shoppers to grab a quick bite on a lunch break or while doing their shopping. The rise of these counters shows just how rapidly the supermarket food-to-go proposition is developing. What started with a few standard sandwiches has become a hub of innovation. It’s a market worth investing in. The food-to-go market as a whole has risen to be worth £25bn over the past year, according to Kantar Worldpanel data, and the multiples make up 20% of lunch-to-go trips.

Yet despite all this innovation, the supermarkets are in danger of losing share. The past year has seen a significant shift in shopping behaviour, says Tolga Necar, consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel. “There’s clear evidence of shoppers switching their lunchtime spend out of the multiples and into quick-service restaurants. Those out-of-home food services have grown to encompass 15% of lunchtime trips this year, up from 13% last year.”

This is partly because consumers are actually buying lunch out of home less often. “So when they do purchase a lunch to go, they want to treat themselves,” explains Necar. “Because of this, shoppers are finding it more permissible to swap from an inexpensive, standard local supermarket lunch to a pricier, more indulgent quick-service restaurant.”

These growing rivals have fresh, new ideas – and supermarkets may need more than a high-end sushi counter to fight back.

Greggs is a franchise that you will find on most high streets across the UK. What began with Mr John Gregg delivering fresh eggs and yeast to the people of Newcastle via push-bike has grown into one of the most recognisable fast-food chains in the country.

A decade after he began his journey, John Gregg chained up his bike and opened Greggs of Gosforth. Making, baking and selling fresh bread and tasty treats from his very own shop on Gosforth High Street and there’s still a Greggs there today.

Speaking to Global Convenience Store Focus, Roger Whiteside said: “Over the years, Greggs opened more shops across the country and looked for ways we could make Greggs even better.

“Our menu changed with the nation’s taste – who’d have thought of freshly ground Fairtrade Espresso from Greggs, we added calories to our menu (before we had to) and we provided free Wi-Fi – that’s been voted the best on the high street.”

Greggs opened its 2,000th shop in August of this year. But there’s more to its dramatic success than good sausage rolls and free Wi-Fi. Change is something that can be hard to embrace, especially for what was once a traditional bakery. However, the adaptation of Greggs into what it is today shows clearly how success comes when you move with the times.

The dramatic change in the formula from a local bakery to one of the leading names for food-on-the-go is a perfect example of how the needs of the consumer change, and how businesses must follow the trends to ensure the demands of the customer are met. One of these demands that grows ever-more prominent is putting the ‘fast’ in ‘fast food’. Where years ago, one might expect a short wait in exchange for receiving freshly cooked foods, we now see a far higher demand for efficiency stemming from the competition in the market.

Within the last five years, the process of ordering and picking up food has gotten far simpler. Many fast-food restaurants have used digital menu boards and self-ordering kiosks. Technology such as this helps reduce queuing and ordering times and allows customers to explore the menu at their own pace.

But what if we told you it might get even easier and faster?

Self-serve pickup cabinets have started to gain traction in the last year. Not only that, but mobile apps are becoming commonplace for those ordering food to collect ahead of their visit. For example, when a customer orders from a restaurant’s app or website, the location immediately receives the order and starts preparing the food. After the food is cooked, it’s stored in the cabinet to stay warm. Once the food ready for collection, a text notification is immediately sent to the customer with a personalised pin or QR code. When the customer arrives, they enter the pin or scan the code and pick up their food from the unit.

So what’s the most significant benefit? Customers can order and pay remotely before they enter the store, meaning a restaurant can cut down on staff needed at the registers. More pieces of equipment like this not only will reduce downtime, but they also will keep food fresh during pick-up.

The level of competition in the food to go sector is the main challenge for operators, with market saturation a real possibility. Many franchises are looking at alternatives means of construction to accommodate the latest innovations and maximise efficiency.

Modular construction has proven to be a far more efficient alternative to traditional brick and mortar construction. Not only that, but it enables the implementation of technology and systems to improve the overall efficiency of the fast-food operation. A great example of this is the URtoGo Pitstop Hub built by modular specialist Rapid Retail, which was recently deployed to serve as an unattended fast-food store, with the addition of other goods served via a vending-machine-style service.

Rapid Retail has also supplied a modular food-to-go solution for Greggs as part of a larger Euro Garages forecourt at Kinmel Park services in Wales. There are several advantages when utilising modular, and Greggs is no stranger to keeping up with the latest trends to maximise revenue and keep customers happy.

Although this unit may not feature the latest tech for minimising queue times, the reduced production time enables a faster opening and therefore, greater revenue opportunity. Here’s a breakdown of the effect this has in terms of revenue:

Modular solutions create the perfect foundation for modifications and future technology to enhance the customer experience and make fast food faster. If you’re thinking about the fast-food restaurant of the future, why not think modular?

For more information about modular food-to-go solutions, contact Rapid Retail’s team of modular retail specialists on +44 (0)1386 555044 or email sales@rapidretail.co.uk

References and image sources: https://www.globalconveniencestorefocus.co.uk/features/greggs-embraces-food-to-go-trend/; https://www.qsrmagazine.com/menu-innovations/how-far-can-grab-and-go-trend-go; https://visual.ly/community/infographic/food/modular-makes-fast-food-even-faster; https://www.partstown.com/about-us/fast-food-trends-2020; https://www.urtogo.com/ur-pitstop-hub; https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/trend-reports/food-to-go-get-ready-for-the-counter-revolution/572874.article; https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/leader/are-the-days-of-the-fresh-food-supermarket-counter-dead-/576217.article;