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Food-to-go: global lessons from North America

What can you learn from Tim Hortons, Panera Bread and other North American FTG giants?

About this article

Ahead of our first ever Food-to-Go Conference on November 22, we've been visiting food-to-go specialists, convenience stores and supermarkets across various North American locations to explore what we can take from the latest regional food-to-go best practice.  Here are some of our highlights:

1. When a coffee chain goes into fast food - Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons is a ubiquitous presence in Canada, selling volumes of coffee that dwarf those of more premium rivals like Starbucks. But it's an evolving proposition, developing from a core focus on drip coffee into barista coffee in more stores, while also, and potentially more significantly, pushing into more food, and, significantly, hot food. This is where you can really see the thinking from its new owners, Restaurant Brands International and its other core brand Burger King, feeding through. This is helping it develop more of a hybrid proposition, that positions it firmly within a different competitor set, that firmly extends to include the likes of McDonalds or Subway. With international expansion a stated goal, and expansion plans already announced for the UK and the Philippines, this could add a new dynamic to many markets.

2. Second Cup - a new type of (chain) premium coffee experience

The Toronto-based coffee company has over 300 stores across Canada, and at home is going through an extensive rebrand and refurbishment programme. The advantage of this is that in effect a growing number of its stores are in a format that's up to date and on trend, and that therefore leaves a striking impression. This is driving greater differentiation in the marketplace, coming after a difficult trading period. There's a strengthening international expansion under way - Second Cup is now present across much of the Middle East through franchise agreements. It's also present in the UK with a handful of locations in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and further expansion planned.

3. Supermarkets can do an outstanding job in food-to-go, but need the right approach

For US and some Canadian supermarkets, food-to-go has a different definition, encompassing a vast array of prepared food, presented in a buffet style, and designed either for consumption in-store or to be taken away.  Wegmans and Whole Foods market are amongst the best, but a wide range of players offer attractive multiple solutions covering a range of cuisines and nutritional requirements. But to do food-to-go at this level requires a shift in approach: a successful food-to-go business of this type runs on very different KPIs to those typical of a big box format.  

4. Health and wellness has much further to develop globally

North America offers fantastic insights into what is to come for many markets. Supermarkets’ focus on health is enormously impressive, in assortment, display and in-store zoning, with Whole Foods Market, Stop & Shop and Trader Joe's amongst the best developed offers we saw. At the same time, food-to-go specialists like Fresh & Co, Sweetgreen and Freshii offer inspiration for retailers, suppliers and food-to-go specialists alike.

5. When a sandwich becomes more than a sandwich - Panera Bread

Panera Bread is a simple, convenient concept designed around fast meal solutions for shoppers. Bread based sandwiches may lie at the heart of the proposition, but a curated range of options with different breads and fillings sit neatly alongside a range that has stretched into soups and stews. Potbelly, too, offers much inspiration along similar lines, and now trades in Europe through a single London store.

Get inspired by more of our global and UK food-to-go insights on 22 November.

To deepen your knowledge of the market and grow your network, book onto our Food-to-Go Conference and hear from Pret a Manger, M&S, BP, SPAR alongside leading suppliers and IGD's experts. You can also sign up to our Food-to-Go Retail Safari in London on 23 November. 

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