Britain’s travel hub foodservice market set to embark on explosive growth, NPD Group reports


With the holiday getaway in full swing, and the August bank holiday less than two weeks away, global information company The NPD Group says Britain’s travel hubs – airports, motorway service stations, train stations and petrol forecourts –  now represent a distinct foodservice market. The value of the travel hub foodservice market increased by over +11% for the year ending (YE) June 2019, from £2.47 billion to £2.75 billion. Visits were up from 576 million to 619 million, an increase of more than +7%. The travel hub foodservice market 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%.

Will record rail and air travel bring explosive growth? 
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% to £3.44 billion by 2022 (nearly £690 million more than current figures), thanks to the support of key trends. Rail passenger journeys in Q1 2019 reached a record high of 1.76 billion, international departures from UK airports set a new record of 118 million in 2018 and the British staycation boom is set to continue (see Notes).  There are over 11,000 travel hubs in the UK currently, with the number set to grow.

Guy Fielding, business development director (foodservice), The NPD Group, said: “Family holidays are front of mind this time of year and it is peak time for planes, trains and automobiles. Many of those that set off on their summer break by road will buy snacks and beverages from petrol forecourts and in motorway service stations. People travelling further afield on trains and planes will find high quality foodservice operators offering a huge range of foods and beverages in railway stations and airports to suit all budgets and appetites. A dynamic part of Britain’s £57 billion eat-out foodservice market, these travel hubs are seeing attractive growth and we predict more success. This is in stark contrast to the British high street, where the performance in terms of visits is flat.”

Changing scenery, changing tastes
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.  

Thumbs up from customers
There is evidence that customers buying food and beverages at airports, motorway service stations, train stations and petrol forecourts like what they find. For the YE June 2019, ratings of ‘excellent or very good’ for quality and taste of food have risen more within the travel hub sector than for the wider market. Over the same period, the same applies for ratings of ‘excellent or very good’ for speed of service.

Fielding added: “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.”