Staying in is the new going out – at least when it comes to food. The takeaway market has never been stronger. 

Forget choosing between Indian and Chinese; almost every type of cuisine can now be delivered to people’s doors. And consumer appetite for food-to-go is strong: Just Eat fulfilled more than 135 million orders in the UK alone during the first six months of 2021, while global downloads of food apps like Delivery Hero, UberEats and Deliveroo increased by 21% year-on-year.

Takeaway options for people in smaller or rural communities are also increasing, thanks to significant growth in the recipe box and meal kit market. A quarter of UK consumers have signed up for some form of food or drink subscription, and HelloFresh reported 61.5% year-on-year revenue growth. Plus, renowned eateries from Dishoom to Hawksmoor are now exploring home dining offerings alongside their restaurant service. 

So, what’s the catalyst behind take-out’s transformation? And why do blurring lines between out-of-home and food-to-go provide rich pickings for food brands? 

Let’s take a deeper dive… 

Lockdown changed the recipe for take-out success 

While the pandemic had a devastating impact on the restaurant industry, it forced many hospitality companies and food brands to think outside the box. Or inside the box, to be more precise. 

With restaurants shuttered, direct to consumer deliveries became critical for generating revenue and maintaining valuable customer relationships. And many people turned to comfort food during lockdown, with take-out spending increasing by 42% as traditional takeaway outlets faced new competition from a pop-up network of fine dining deliveries. 

Top-flight food suddenly became accessible to more people at a lower price than visiting the equivalent restaurant. In the UK, successful food-to-go initiatives launched during lockdown included: 

      • Kolamba – the London-based Sri Lankan restaurant launched its own range of feasting boxes, and consumers could also purchase spices and chutneys from its ‘Lankan Larder’
      • Opheem – Michelin star chef Aktar Islam elevated the Indian takeaway through Aktar @ Home, his range of traditionally cooked Indian meal kits (plus a weekly Sunday roast!
      • Dishpatch – a ‘finish at home’ meal kit platform featuring dishes from revered chefs including Tom Kerridge, Michel Roux Jr, Angela Hartnett and Ottolenghi. 95% of the restaurants featured on Dishpatch have never delivered food before.

      It wasn’t just the takeaway market that rapidly transformed, either. Social restrictions also led to surging meal kit and recipe box sales. For UK households, grocery delivery slots were like gold dust during the first lockdown, so many people turned to subscription services like HelloFresh, Gousto and Mindful Chef to access food without leaving their houses. 

      Lockdown also gave people more time to get creative in the kitchen, with quick-thinking food brands responding to this trend. Japanese restaurant Shoryu produced home delivery DIY ramen and steamed bun kits, for example, with the option to purchase ceramic serving bowls and cocktails for a complete dining experience. 

      Standout take-out: thriving in a high growth sector

      Although Covid accelerated the quality and diversity of takeaway options, many businesses that popped up during lockdown abandoned their food-to-go offering as restrictions eased. But that doesn’t mean the take-out bubble has burst for hospitality companies and food brands.

      Food deliveries continue to grow, albeit slower in some regions. UK sales are predicted to increase by £23 billion over the next three years, while US food deliveries are forecast to surpass $33 billion by 2026. China is one of the biggest growth markets, with online food orders doubling in the past two years – however upcoming restrictions around the service fees that delivery platforms charge to restaurants could change this trajectory. 

       

The challenge food companies face taking on home dining today is bringing fresh concepts and ideas to a busy sector. Hundreds, if not thousands, of new products have flooded the market since the start of 2020. So how can brands make sure their proposition is more alluring than direct competitors and restaurant experiences?

Already, several food brands are rising to the challenge of standing out in a crowded market by creating a compelling proposition for a clear target audience. These include: 

  • Planty – tapping into rising interest in vegan cuisine by offering a range of plant-based ready meals

     

  • Pickle and Squash – family-oriented recipe boxes that are suitable for children from 7 months old 
  • Ding Dong Dim Sum and Modern Persian Kitchen – offering consumers access to cuisines beyond the usual takeaway choices of Chinese, Indian and Thai food 
  • Gobble – creating limited edition recipe boxes alongside standard meals, such as Mother’s Day Brunch 
  • Feastbox – introducing consumers to authentic world recipes and hard-to-find ingredients, with a focus on regional seasonality 
  • Too Good To Go – a platform linking consumers with restaurants and stores via mobile app to sell food that would otherwise be thrown away at a discount price 

For other successful restaurant chains and food delivery brands, retail expansion is the next step. Pizza Pilgrims’ DIY frying pan pizza kits are now available through Ocado, while Tesco has joined forces with SimplyCook to launch in-store meal kits. Both Zizzi and Carluccio’s have branded supermarket products, and Wagamama has expanded its retail product range to include meal kits. 

Building more profitable relationships through D2C sales 

While many people relish being able to eat out again, the pandemic opened consumers’ eyes to a wider variety of food-to-go choices. Lockdown may have forced people to stay in, but the trend for haute cuisine in home kitchens is here to stay. 

And it makes commercial sense for brands to explore home delivery and retail product expansion opportunities. Direct to consumer channels encourage existing customers to increase their spending – especially if they sign up for a subscription service – and bring new customers into the brand family who may not be physically or financially able to eat at a restaurant. 

The D2C model also creates new branding and marketing opportunities and a framework to establish a direct consumer dialogue. The quicker brands learn from customers, the easier it becomes to innovate products and implement changes, creating an offering that aligns with the flavours and formats people want to see. 

Read more on nurturing customer relationships through D2C sales. 

But going direct-to-consumer isn’t a guaranteed revenue generator. New sales channels create a host of production, marketing and compliance challenges that fall outside many hospitality companies’ and food brands’ current realm of experience. And failing to meet industry standards can impact badly on carefully built reputations. 

The simplest way for brands to mitigate the risks associated with launching into a new channel is to work with someone who’s walked that path before. Someone who understands the regulatory frameworks food companies need to meet and can help them create compelling products, packaging, and marketing content for takeaway and retail opportunities. 

Because there’s enormous potential for brands to take away a slice of the growing global food-to-go market – provided they have a strong proposition and industry-compliant approach. 

Hooley Brown helps food brands innovate their product offering within regulatory frameworks and create direct-to-consumer sales packaging. Get in touch to find out more. 

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