Packaging considerations: Catering to the rising hot food-to-go movement

6 November 2019

According to research, the UK’s food-to-go sector is set to grow at twice the rate of overall grocery retail to £22.8 billion by 2023, up from £17.8bn in 2018. By Andrew Grimbaldeston, commercial director for Colpac.

According to research, the UK’s food-to-go sector is set to grow at twice the rate of overall grocery retail to £22.8 billion by 2023, up from £17.8bn in 2018.

The booming sector is fuelling today’s busy lives and it isn’t just limited to lunchtime take out. Consumers want food-to-go at all hours of the day and the pressure is on retailers and foodservice operators to innovate their offerings.

Central to this growth is the rising demand for ‘hot’ food-to-go (HFTG) with 45% of food-to-go shoppers now demanding a larger range of hot dishes to take-away.

No longer the sole domain of street food vendors and take-away outlets, major restaurant brands and chains are increasing their hot food-to-go offering and duplicate hot deli counters are popping up which not only cater to the growing demand, but create a simple, cost effective way to attract new shoppers and increase basket spend.

The recent announcement from Greggs that one in four of the bakery giant’s stores will now be opening for longer and selling a range of hot takeaway options is testament to the rising number of consumers reaching for hot food-to-go alternatives. It also signifies the emergence of hot food-to-go being popular throughout the entire day, rather than just a lunchtime option.

Packaging solutions to satisfy HFTG appetites

For some time, retailers and food service operators have been catering to the burgeoning food-to-go market, creating a multitude of innovative dishes and flavours to appeal to the customer. However, given that hot food-to-go tends to be more valuable to retailers, with an average basket value of £5.61, compared with £4.73 for chilled food to go, dishes have had to become increasingly sophisticated.

Similarly, the packaging has followed suit.

No longer are retailers and food service operators satisfied that the packaging can hot hold a dish at 85 degrees for four hours, they are seeking a single pack solution which can protect and preserve the quality of a dish from the chilled, frozen or ambient fill at the point of manufacture, through the supply chain, to regeneration in-store via microwave or oven, before being put into the hot hold cabinet and presented to the consumer in the best way possible. This ensures that the number of times each dish is touched before reaching the consumer is kept to an absolute minimum.

The four stages of selecting the right HFTG packaging solution

Essentially, when considering packaging for hot food-to-go, the entire life cycle of the product needs to be factored in, which can be broken down into four stages; point of fill, point of sale, point of consumption and point of disposal.

When looking at the fill stage of the packaging journey consideration of the factory or kitchen processes needs to be considered, along with the supply chain and regeneration options. And, depending on the desired final presentation, there are multiple packaging choices and varying board options available.

While heat is a critical element with hot food-to-go packaging, there are many more factors which need to be considered in finding a suitable packaging solution.

At the point of sale, the packaging is the message and it is important that, while not always easy with hot food-to-go, the dish is presented well. Consideration also needs to be given to the point of consumption and potential for onward transportation.

The point of disposal now plays a critical role, particularly as caterers, retailers and consumers, while seeking convenience, are also looking to mitigate the environmental impact of their packaging. Given the environmental aspects of packaging waste in recent months, packs which carry sustainable accreditations which fit into the end of life options available, will increasingly become the norm and this is already being incorporated into most hot-hold packaging solutions.

There is an appreciation that greater infrastructure is needed throughout the UK to enable consumers to dispose of their packaging effectively, particularly if we are to meet the 65% municipal waste target by 2035. Retailers and food service operators need to offer consumers clear guidance on the disposal route required to ensure that the final stage of the packaging lifecycle is carried out.

Choosing the right packaging needs expertise and support from a manufacturer who has all the suitable options to meet supply chain, point of sale and hot hold needs, along with the materials and waste expertise to support a food service operator’s environmental goals.

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