Opinion: The eating-out market is changing rapidly and will impact wholesalers profoundly

The eating-out market is changing rapidly and its impact on wholesalers will be profound, argues David Gilroy

How many different cuisines have you experienced over the past three months? A fair few, I bet. Over the past 20 years, the UK population has embraced a wide range of diverse cultures and mashed together an exciting and varied selection of food from all over the world.

It is now possible to eat culinary treats from scores of different cultures across the UK. We are seeing this being taken to a new level through the fusing together of cooking styles exploding to an even greater range of menu options.

One of the spin-offs is street food, which is now being recognised as a new and distinct genre. The ability to turn out deliciously different food from small premises has garnered a new culture. It is vibrant, youthful, edgy and challenging, and so influential that it was recently featured in a dedicated episode of MasterChef: The Professionals.

There was a time when if you wanted to start a restaurant, you would need retail premises and weeks to plan and prepare for opening. Not now.

Typically, street food operators can set up in days and work from stalls and pop-up units or in box parks. Like many of the quick-serve restaurants, street food operators have experienced a turbo-boost to their sales by partnering with delivery specialists such as Deliveroo or Just Eat.

This makes brilliant food just an app-click away. Consumers are migrating from food preparation in their kitchen to ordering food for home delivery. They decide what to eat at
the last minute, and order for immediate consumption.

HIM reports that the food-to-go market is set to reach £21.7bn this year, has a 23% share of the total eating out market and is on track to grow to £1.8bn by 2023. These figures show that it is expected to outperform the wider eating-out market.

Allegra Research, meanwhile, reports that the number of quality independent coffee shops have grown from 50 in 2010 to over 400 in London alone. MCA also states that the UK delivery market grew by 18% to £8.4bn in 2019 versus 2018, and it forecasts that the foodservice delivery market will continue to grow strongly in the next three years.

We are not necessarily going to consume more food and drink per se, but the way we obtain our food and the mix of food ingredients – for example, the move to plant-based and non-dairy milk – will have a massive impact on ranges in stores and restaurants.
Convenience stores are rapidly installing various food-to-go options from coffee through to hot dogs, pastries and pizzas.

Sainsbury’s has just converted a ‘Local’ convenience store to its first pilot on-the-go format, offering a variety of foods prepared on site including pizzas, sushi and freshly squeezed juices.

In my view, this will be a major, if not the number-one influencer in wholesale over the next five years. Talk to any of the street food operators and they will tell you that they procure their ingredients from many different sources.

Wholesalers are not necessarily top of their list – or even on their list. The challenge for our industry is to stay relevant and in tune with the needs of these fast-moving social changes. Ranges will need updating, overhauling and rebalancing.

Strategic partnerships with food-to-go specialists could be considered or maybe the acquisition of food-to-go operators with the knowledge and skills in this high-octane area.
Eating-out changes are already well underway and the effects will reach deep into the wholesaler’s customer behaviors. They can’t be ignored.

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David Gilroy is the founder and managing director of Store Excel. He was previously the convenience retail lead at W2 Commercial and held operations director roles at Bestway Wholesale and Nurdin & Peacock.


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