The Challenges of the Convenience Food Sector

In a supermarket there are many categories, all with their different shopper types and shopping missions. It is what makes our jobs so interesting, as we get to work across a wide variety of different categories and get our teeth into how categories can grow through understanding their shopper.

One such category we’ve been interested in recently is the Lunch / Food To Go category. This is a category that is often at the front of a supermarket for ease, and therefore has a huge role to play in the overall quality perception of not only its own products, but the supermarket generally.

A supermarket with a well stocked, high quality Food To Go area, will see benefits on its overall quality perceptions as a person first walks into a store.

This presents a challenge for suppliers to the Food To Go area – keeping their products high quality whilst still watching their margins.



Food To Go is by nature a quick, fast changing category. It is often subject to the latest trends in eating. One trend that never seems to go away, but intensifies, is healthy, or clean eating. Many shoppers strive to make decisions about their food choices to have a healthy diet. We know that many manufacturers, and even fast food chains, are changing their products and menus, to make them have fewer artificial ingredients and additives. Food To Go is a category with a close eye on use by dates and preservation. It is a fine balance between healthy and long-lasting.

A healthy eating consumer leads to a drive for a higher quality product, and in turn, this leads to innovation in the category. Food To Go is an area that sees a lot of churn in products hitting the shelves. It also benefits from seasonal ranges (Turkey and Cranberry Sandwich, anyone?), and regular changes in packaging.



Price is often a key selling point in this category – think of the Boots Meal Deal. It is almost infamous amongst lunch buyers. Price deals can change the way a consumer makes a decision at the fixture. Instead of choosing the premium sandwich they may be tempted to get the standard sandwich in return for a snack and a drink.



Where a shopper is buying their ‘food to go’ has a big impact. The store may be a convenience store, or it may be a large supermarket. They’ll all provide food to go, depending on their location. Your mission may be just lunch, or you might be stocking up on a few other essentials while you are there.



Food To Go

The greatest challenge from an insight perspective is that ‘Food To Go’ is not a top of mind purchase. Leave it a day or two, and most shoppers simply won’t be able to remember why they selected what they did. A few more days and they may not be able to remember even what they selected. This is particularly the case for regular buyers. Try asking them what they thought of the overall range, or the packaging, days after the event and you’ll be met with a blank face!

Eyetracking footage we have of a purchase in Food To Go shows that the decision making can be very quick indeed. A quick glance over the range, and then a choice is made. For some it will be much more considered of course, but for many the need to get in and out rapidly is the priority.


In fact, buying food or snacks for lunchtime is something most of us claim to do. 76% claim to have bought food for lunch in the last 3 months. Of those, 32% say they have bought from a large supermarket, and a further 26% from the high street (Boots / M&S ).


It just goes to show that Food To Go is a massive category with a wide-reaching demographic. However, the category does tend to over-index on younger shoppers who are working.



A large supermarket will have a close relationship with their food to go suppliers. They’ll need to. They need to work closely together to respond to changing consumer demand in food to go, and amend their ranges and SKUs accordingly. They’ll need to work together to make sure the front of the store is an appealing area that showcases a supermarket’s quality credentials.

Often, customer research is at the heart of this relationship between Supplier and Supermarket. Suppliers often come to us with a request to use insight to drive their decisions and negotiatons with the supermarket. By proving what customers actually want, they can show how their ranges and offerings can meet those needs. It is a very powerful tool used by suppliers, and it is one we fully endorse as we believe both supplier and supermarket will benefit from the insight provided.

Come and have a chat with us if you’d like to know how we have supported suppliers in their quest to change packaging, create new products, change their brand positioning, tweak the formulation of their products, or suggest pricing changes.


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Amy Nichols
01962 842211
Article date - 09/12/2016
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