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Britain’s booming travel hub foodservice market

Foodservice business at airports, motorway services, train stations and petrol forecourts is now worth £2.75 billion, with consumer spend up 11.0% in the past year.

The figures from The NPD Group clearly show that Britain’s travel hubs now represent a distinct foodservice market - one that is already the same size in visit terms as the delivery sector was at the end of 2015.

Over the past three years, airports have seen the fastest growth in foodservice visits (31%), followed by motorway service stations (16%). This is in contrast to the fortunes of foodservice operators located on Britain’s high streets and shopping centres, where visits growth has been hard to achieve. In the 12 months to June 2019 high streets and shopping centres recorded a marginal decrease in visits (-0.2%, or -8m fewer visits).

Families and young adults are driving the growth in travel hub foodservice, especially in the 16-24 age group which registered a 20% increase to YE June 2019. Visits by families with kids up to 15 years of age were up by 13%.

According to the research, consumers change some of their consumption habits when they are travelling. Demand for traditional coffee or any kind of tea drops by around half, while the likelihood of buying dairy drinks or milk shakes nearly doubles, and we are more than three times as likely to buy energy/sport drinks.

The motivation to find something ‘light, balanced and healthy’ triggers at least 50% more visits than normal. We are also 30% more likely to try ‘something different/new’ and 20% more likely to satisfy a ‘special taste or craving’. The number of deals and promotions in travel hub outlets is 64% higher than for the eat-out industry as a whole. Snacking accounts for most of what we eat and drink when travelling followed by lunch. Breakfast is a bigger occasion in travel hub locations too, accounting for around one in five visits, in contrast to one in eight visits seen in the wider foodservice industry.  

Guy Fielding, business development director (foodservice), The NPD Group, said: “These travel hubs are doing well not just because more people are travelling but also because the quality of food and beverages, as well as the experience, has improved. Times have changed. Yes, there are still locations and outlets that clearly need to do better but travelling consumers are these days getting much more than they have ever done before in terms of service, variety and quality.”

NPD predicts that the travel hub market could see the same kind of explosive growth as the delivery channel, with consumer spending potentially growing by as much as 25% by 2022.

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