The total food-to-go market is set to rise by an average rate of 4.4% over the next three years, according to MCA.

2016 consumer research from him! showed that the food-to-go market is up 29% since 2008 and is currently worth £20.2bn. According to the researcher, 35% of UK adults are now eating out more often than they were 12 months ago, with the level particularly high among 16- to 24-year-olds.

While the research discovered that the food-to-go mission was rated the third most valuable shopping mission to convenience stores, driving 890m shopping trips to c-stores every year and contributing £3.9bn to the sector, there has been a small but steady decline in food-to-go missions since 2014. This, said him! was due to ever-increasing competition from supermarkets, discounters and specialist foodservice outlets, which have proved attractive alternatives to the food-to-go mission.

Sandwiches and soft drinks were key products driving food-to-go shoppers to c-stores, with coffee and hot food also high on the agenda. In addition, symbol c-stores were considered comparable with supermarket c-stores in terms of in-store bakery and food-to-go prices, as well as being stronger in terms of service.

Him! also investigated what shoppers want from food-to-go in convenience and found that a self-service hot food cabinet was of interest to three in four food-to-go shoppers in symbol stores, indicating a huge potential for the concept. Other findings included that 22% of shoppers would be influenced to purchase food-to-go if there was a click and collect option available.

While healthy options have been in demand, this has now reached a tipping point in 2016, according to him!. Low calories, low fat and low sugar are key messages shoppers look for with regards to food, but this differs by region, with Londoners more concerned about organic and Scottish shoppers more concerned about salt levels, for example.

Him!’s research was based on 1,180 face to face interviews with food-to-go shoppers in Tesco, Express, Sainsbury’s Local, The Co-operative, Spar, Budgens, Nisa, Costa, Greggs, Pret A Manger and Burger King during July and August this year.