The rise of food-to-go and what it means for the baking industry

There are various trends in the baking industry, but one of the fastest developing is the inclination for on-the-go food. Although new brands focusing on this niche are popping up all over the UK, established companies are also transforming their operations to accommodate the trend — including Starbucks, which has just opened its first upscale bakery offering food baked onsite that customers can buy and take away. 

According to research, many UK consumers are opting to eat on the move — but why? We explore the facts behind the food-to-go trend and predict how it will affect the future of the baking industry.

The rise of eating on the go in the UK

The baking industry is constantly evolving to reflect and even pre-empt new consumer trends in the market. For many professionals in the sector, the focus has been on producing dishes that customers can pick-up, pay for and consume quickly, without booking a table.

According to research and training organisation, IGD, the food-to-go sector in the UK will reach a value of £23.5 billion by 2022. A reason for this has been attributed to the market not limiting itself to consumers in the capital, and instead developing quickly in other areas around the country.

Today, consumers that eat on the go can enjoy a range of savoury takeaway options — such as freshly baked quiches and pasties — as well as sweet choices, like slices of cake baked onsite that day for customers to grab and go. But how are individual brands faring in this sector?

Greencore — a convenience food producer operating in the Republic of Ireland and UK — experienced a growth of 1.4% in Q3 due to on-the-go sales, while sales at the UK’s largest bakery chain, Greggs, increased 7.4%. Roger Whiteside, chief executive at Greggs, said that the company intends to grow as “a leading food-on-the-go brand” and the company’s financial statement claimed that it will invest heavily in improving “enhanced capability and efficiency to compete in the fast-moving, food-on-the-go market.”

Even well-known supermarket chains and convenience stores are attempting to capitalise on the surge for food-to-go. According to a 2018 MCA Eating Out report, these types of shops have increased their share of the market by 0.2% since 2015.

Evidently, it seems that the development of the market is partly due to a change in how bakery companies offer food to consumers and which products they choose to put on the shelves, as well as a shift in how consumers want to eat and which foods they choose to buy. But, will this sector evolve as its popularity and consumer demand rises?

How will the rise of food-to-go affect the baking industry?

The rise of the eating-on-the-move market is expected to affect the entire baking industry, including how it operates, who it targets and which food it produces. Here is a selection of key insights into the effect of a developing dining-on-the-move sector on the baking industry:

Healthy eating and eco-friendliness

The 2018 Food-To-Go Conference also brought many insights and predictions regarding the industry. According to Simon Stenning, executive director of MCA, healthy eating and sustainability are going to be driving trends behind the sector in the future. Similarly, the latest Pulse Survey from Nisbets — a leading UK supplier of bakery equipment — surveyed more than 600 catering industry professionals including front-of-house restaurant staff and chefs. It discovered that healthy eating (namely, veganism and vegetarianism) was cited as being the greatest trend of 2018 by a quarter of participants. Also, 70% of those asked claimed that they would buy eco-friendly or compostable products in 2018.

What’s more, many leading food-on-the-go companies have recently implemented a code of practice to reduce sugar levels by a fifth by 2020. Clearly, the drive towards healthy eating is a focus for the sector already, and consequently, we can expect the baking industry to react accordingly if it is to continue its upward trajectory to success. Expect to see on-the-go food packaged in recyclable material only, a rise in food purchased from sustainable farms and menus featuring meat-free and health-focused alternatives.


As with most industries, advances in technology will transform operations and processes — and food-to-go is no exception. From tech-based catering products to digitally enhanced marketing, this sector seems to have plenty of options at its disposal when it comes to technology.

The bakery industry may benefit from the increasing availability of market data and trends that will allow it to tailor menus, offers and promotional schemes to its target on-the-go consumer. Brand apps that are free to download may also enable customers to order and pay for the baked takeaway food they desire while on the move, ensuring that they can literally grab their item and leave, which will help to streamline the purchasing process even further.


According to senior insight manager at IGD, Gavin Rothwell: “Many operators are looking to tempt shoppers with ranges tailored to different times of day.” More consumer demand for on-the-go food will encourage catering professionals to provide this type of product at every point of the day to maximise sales potential — and we expect the brunch trend to grow significantly as a result.

According to data from Google Trends, the search term ‘brunch’ has risen over the past five years and reached its peak in popularity in 2018, suggesting that more people are seeking venues that offer food at this time.

Potentially, the increasing popularity of brunch will merge with the rising demand for on-the-go produce, and the UK consumer market will see more choice and variety in brunch-related, baked foods — such as pastries and waffles — tailored to the type of customer who wants to dine on the move.

More availability of grab-and-go food

As we’ve seen from the MCA Eating Out report mentioned previously, supermarkets are also getting on board with this catering trend. Due to its popularity, it makes sense that eateries will adapt their products and even the layout of their establishments to cater for this type of customer, so we anticipate even greater availability of on-the-go food in the future.

For example, we could see more takeaway windows attached to established bakeries and other eateries, as well as more bakery brands launching pop-up stalls at food festivals and events to offer their menus to the on-the-go customer.

Clearly, there is much to look forward to in the food-to-go sector for bakery companies. Which brands will make the greatest success of it further down the line?