Woman serving takeaway coffee and food in brown bag

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The food-to-go market is to recover from the impact of Covid six months earlier than expected, according to the latest channel forecasts from IGD.

By the end of the 2021 the channel is anticipated to be worth £15.6bn – 82.5% of its 2019 value – and is predicted to return to pre-Covid levels in the second half of 2022.

“This is a better-than-expected result, so is really positive news for the sector; by 2026, the market will be worth £22.7bn which is 20.5% more than 2019,” said Nicola Knight, senior analyst for food-to-go and author of the forecasts at IGD.

“This will be the outcome of five years of growth at above pre-pandemic levels, following significant contraction in 2020, and will predominantly be driven by foodservice operators.”

IGD’s Food-to-Go Forecast includes QSRs, coffee shops, food-to-go specialists, supermarkets, convenience stores, forecourts and other retailers.

However, recovery is not consistent across the subsectors. Foodservice operators, in particular quick service restaurants (QSRs) have been the main driver of the growth, according to IGD, increasing market share from 77% in 2019 to 79% in 2021. In retail, the share of the food-to-go market is forecast to reduce to 21% in 2021 from 24% in 2019 but this will gradually increase to 23% by 2026 as momentum starts to return to retail food-to-go, IGD added.

Knight explained that this shift is due to retailers facing increased competition from foodservice operators in 2021 as well as a decrease in demand and change in shopping habits meaning many have reallocated space to other categories.

“While larger stores have benefited from consolidated shopping missions, smaller stores have experienced a greater dip in sales but, conversely, are likely to recover more quickly as some pre-pandemic behaviours return,” she added. “The challenge for retailers now is whether they can close the gap in market share. It will depend on how far consumers return to pre-Covid habits and how fast retailers adapt to changes in behaviour that stick.”