From ready-wrapped vegan sandwiches to an array of healthy snacks, the lunch sector is good to go in natural health stores, as Brits shun packed lunches for pre-prepped convenience foods – and the sector is becoming increasingly competitive, writes Matt Chittock

It’s official: Brits are regularly leaving their packed lunches at home in favour of buying pre-prepared alternatives. Mintel gauged the 2017 figure to be 76%, up from 64% in 2016, and with a total UK market worth a massive £20.7 billion, according to MCA Insight, it’s no surprise that retailers are keen to get a bite of food-to-go. Yet, having a stake in the sector means putting your shop up against some serious competition – and it’s not just the local café.

MCA’s top ten food-to-go brands include the fast-food names you’d expect (McDonald’s and Subway) but also supermarkets like Tesco who have got into the game in the last decade. If this wasn’t enough, the mainstream is on a mission to appear healthier as well. Pret A Manger has expanded its plant-powered Veggie Pret outlets, while Sainsbury’s bolstered its vegan range earlier this
year after seeing sales of meat-free products grow 20% each week. 

Can independent stores compete in a market that seems to be getting bigger and healthier? Michelle Oliver from Food for Living in Dartford believes that they can. And the solution is simply finding your own unique local niche.

Filling a gap
Food for Living has found a fresh way into the food-to-go sector by offering CLF’s range of Well Fresh vegan wraps, sandwiches and salads in a branded chiller. Oliver says that the range’s convenience is an important factor, as is the fact that vegans aren’t amazingly well catered for in the area.

“We’ve been doing the Well Fresh range for a couple of months now,” she explains. “Appealing to vegan customers is crucial because they’re not well served elsewhere. Locally, if you’re
a vegetarian there may be only a couple of options, and for vegans it’s even more limited. This is a chance to make it easy for them and give vegan customers a selection that they want.”

Oliver adds that an important route to success has been making sure customers know that the range is available in the first place. The store’s strategy has included promoting the selection on social media to inspire word-of-mouth.

“In general, people might not expect that we’re the kind of store that does lunch,” she says. “For us as a shop it’s all about getting the word out there and letting people know that they can come and get their lunch stuff here. We’ve been posting on Facebook and Instagram and doing promotional leaflets and flyer drops around the local area. 

“We’ve also got a display board and a dedicated menu. It may sound like a lot of work but it does create interest, and then people come in to buy.”

Of course, to-go sarnies aren’t always an option for stores who don’t have room for a chiller, or are located right opposite a Pret. However, that doesn’t mean abandoning food altogether. Stocking healthy snacks can be a great way of capturing grab-and-go customers going into the office or coming back from the school run.

Oliver says that snacks are definitely a key part of the business. “We also have a selection of vegan snacks and drinks to go with the wraps … to finish off their lunch,” she says.

Snack time 
Even better, snacks make for a consistent market – with 69% of the 96% of people that eat snacks doing so at least once a day, so says Mintel. It’s certainly a category that works for Emma Reid from The Super Store in Peebles, Scotland.

“Because we’re a relatively small shop it’s the packaged snacks that tend to work for us,” she explains. “We’ve had sandwiches and wraps before, and will do so again, but the snacks tend to be really good sellers.”

And it’s no surprise that healthy bars lead the way when it comes to snacking. “We find that all of the healthy bars do well,” says Reid. “The Trek bars and Meridian bars do particularly well. The price point is really nice – so they’re not massively expensive. It’s something that customers can eat on the go or put in their pocket for later.” 

Reid adds that Roobar organic, vegan, raw and gluten-free bars are also good sellers, particularly because they tick all the boxes for her customers. She says one particular product of interest is the brand’s Matcha Choc Chip & Mint Probiotic Ball, which blends probiotic appeal with superfood edge and overall indulgence.

Hodmedod is another nice little seller, according to Reid. The brand aims to offer shoppers something other than nuts, with a selection of ‘snack roasted’ pulses sourced direct from British farms. The range includes Fava Beans and Roasted Peas with flavours such as Horseradish and Sea Salt & Cider Vinegar.

“Word of mouth has been really strong with Hodmedod,” says Reid. “Plus they’re really moreish and high in fibre too.”

Discounting calories 
So why do health food stores do so well from snacks? As consumers seek guilt-free snacking in new and exciting formats, independent retailers are often seen as the go-to source for healthy and innovative products.

There’s been no let-up in the number of brands keen to get on health stores’ shelves either. Companies like Indie Bay Snacks, which offers distinctively packaged Pretzel Bites foreground nutritious ingredients from spelt to sunflower seeds.

Will Peck, ‘activation indie’ at Indie Bay Snacks, believes that modern consumers are learning to look beyond the calories to pinpoint more exacting measures of health. “As the British public continues to deepen its understanding and interest in food and nutrition, focus has shifted to macronutrient content rather than just pure calorie counts,”
he says.

“Protein content appears to be well on the way to being the primary selling point for snackers who are looking for more fulfilling, balanced snacks. This comes alongside the ongoing growth of vegetarian and vegan communities.” 

Peck says that Indie Bay has worked hard to reach this new generation of discerning shoppers. “We mark ourselves out by offering consumers a universally appealing snack that is genuinely healthier than the alternative, while providing the classic salty taste that snackers crave,” he says.

“Our position at this mid-point between junk food and super-healthy rabbit food means that we offer something for the average consumer as well as the health-conscious foodie.”

In a market where innovation matters, it can be difficult for retailers to know which trends to back next. Vegan foods are definitely making waves right now, while tahini-packed foods, caffeine-enhanced snacks and drinking soups in smoothie-like bottles have all been tipped as ones to watch.


Healthy Lunch & Snacks Product Listings


Bio-tiful Kefir-Quark

Bio-tiful Dairy
E-mail:  [email protected]

Bio-tiful Kefir-Quark is a delicious cultured dairy snack that is higher in protein and richer in live cultures than yoghurt. Made with a unique combination of authentic live kefir and quark cultures, Kefir-Quark is naturally packed with billions of gut-friendly bacteria and boasts over 18g of protein. With less than 100 kcals per portion, it is a light yet highly nutritious breakfast or snack that naturally supports digestion, immunity and boosts energy levels. Free from artificial flavours, preservatives and added sugar, this product can be enjoyed on its own, with fruit compote or with berries and seeds.


Raw Organic Fruity Coconut Balls & Chocada Truffles

RAW Vibrant Living
Tel: 0208 547 2775
E-mail:  [email protected]

RAW Organic Fruity Coconut Balls & Chocada truffles are lovingly hand-crafted and bursting with nuts, seeds and dates to keep you going until dinner. Satisfying and delicious, these energy balls are made with raw ingredients prepared at low temperatures to ensure that the nutritional properties remain intact.  A great on-the-go energy booster that’s free from any added beet or cane sugar!  For the whole range visit:


Savoury Yogurt

The Veggie Plot savoury yogurts
Tel: 07425 928968
E-mail:  [email protected]

The Veggie Plot – A new and exciting brand of savoury yogurt that is simple yet delicious and convenient. A blend of zero-fat, no added sugar Greek yogurt with veggies and herbs to be eaten as a healthy snack option at any time of day or be used in the kitchen to create tasty and healthy meals.  Our yogurts were created out of an ambition to make healthy food fun, different, easy and versatile and is delivering a premium specialist product with wide appeal that was a finalist in the New Product of the Year category at Food Matters Live last year Available in 150g tubs on-line at Ocado.


Linwoods Active Nuts 

Tel: 02837 568 477
E-mail:  [email protected]

Active Nuts are packed with Vitamin E and BioCultures, high in fibre and a natural source of protein, making them the perfect guilt-free snack. Organic and gluten-free, Active Nuts have no added salt or sugar and are high in Omega 3. Active Nuts are put through a specialised process which to enhance their flavour and nutrients. The nuts are first soaked to reduce the natural bitterness of the nut, before being slow dried to preserve the nutrients, whilst giving it a light texture and feel. Available in three flavours, the Organic Almonds, Organic Walnuts and Organic Walnuts with Apple, Cinnamon & Bio-Culture.



Natural Balance Foods
E-mail: [email protected]

Nakd makes nutritious, healthy snacks without compromising on taste – the perfect choice for outlets wanting to cater for more than one in five snacking occasions now chosen on the basis of health. Every Nakd bar is minimally processed using 100% natural ingredients, such as fruits and nuts – all ‘smooshed’ together into a handy bar. Plus, of course, they’re all gluten, wheat and dairy-free, with no added sugar – and are vegan-friendly! Available in 12 delicious flavours, Nakd is the go to snacking range for tasty treats.


Planet Organic Raw Chocolate Covered Crunch Bar

Planet Organic
Tel: 0207 221 7171
E-mail:   [email protected]

Planet Organic is proud to announce the launch of our Biolive Crunch Bars, a delicious range of snack bars with added gut-friendly live cultures. 

Crunchy buckwheat and omega-rich seeds are bound together with cacao butter and covered in smooth raw chocolate. High fibre and lower in sugar, each crunchy square contains 1 BILLION CFU Bacillus coagulans to keep your gut in tip-top shape. Available in three mouth-watering flavours: Salted Almond, Goji Pumpkin Seed and Spirulina & Mulberry. 


Kids’ Fruity Oat Bars

Tel: 01452 729000
E-mail:  [email protected]

Kids are going wild for Fruity Oat Bars by Pulsin. The deliciously oaty award-winning snack bars are made with real fruit and 100% natural ingredients. Fruity Oat Bars are the perfect healthy lunch box treat for on –the-go kids, made for the big appetites of little snackers. 

Crafted with gluten free UK oats, real fruit, no refined sugars, preservatives or artificial flavours, each bar has 1/3 less sugar than the average kids’ snack, is 1 of child’s 5 a day and has under 100 calories. The range includes three delicious flavours – Orange Choc Chip; Strawberry and Blackcurrant & Apple. 


Fresh Tortelli Stuffed with Jackfruit, Courgette & Basil

Pastificio Veneto, exclusive to Essential Trading
Tel:  0117 958 3550
E-mail:  [email protected]

We are pleased to announce a new fresh pasta in the range by Pastificio Veneto and sold exclusively by Essential Trading – Fresh Tortelli Stuffed with Jackfruit, Courgette & Basil. 

Jackfruit is a natural, nutritious and delicious alternative to meat. The fibrous pieces of fruit readily soak up rich flavours – think ethical pulled pork! The jackfruit in this stuffed pasta comes from the same plantation in Sri Lanka as in our tins. The Pastificio Veneto co-operative in Italy employs socially and economically disadvantaged local people who otherwise might find it hard to gain employment in the area.


Beetroot + Curly Kale Soup

Tideford Organics
Tel: 01803 840 555
E-mail:  [email protected]

This Organic September Tideford are delighted to launch their new Beetroot + Curly Kale Soup. This vibrant recipe is low fat, no added sugar and high in filling fibre, with handfuls of organic beetroot and seasoned with fresh parsley and garlic, this soup tastes as good as it looks. It also comes with a good helping of organic, British-grown quinoa, the nutty grain that contains all nine essential amino acids. Tideford are also delighted to be celebrating two years as a vegan company, after becoming the UK’s first organic, vegan and gluten-free brand in 2016.


Bounce Breakfast High Fibre Protein Bar

Bounce Foods
Tel: 0845 838 2579
E-mail:  [email protected]

NEW Bounce Breakfast is a range of great tasting, crunchy and chewy bars available in three best-selling flavours: Red Berry, Madagascan Vanilla and Peanut Butter. Developed with a nutritionist to create the perfect measure of delicious and nutritious energy. Bounce Breakfast Bars tick all the boxes; they’re quick to prepare, lower in sugar, high in fibre and high in protein to keep you fuller for longer.  Each 45g bar is under 200 calories, packed with at least 9g of protein and a hearty 6.7g of fibre, but most importantly they taste great too! For the best start to your morning, wake up with a Bounce! 


TIANA CocoTop 

TIANA Fairtrade Organics
Tel: 0208427 1695
E-mail: [email protected]

TIANA Organic CocoTop produced to be different, unlike most other coconut chips which are basic desiccated coconut, tasteless without any nutri¬tional value and suitable only for cooking. TIANA Organic CocoTop highly nutritional irresistible “on-the-go” snacks stand out from the rest and winner of a Great Taste Award 2018. Heavenly delicious snacks with no refined sugar added will boost your energy, making you feel full and nourished as a great healthy alternative to crisps and popcorn. “High energy” snacks are high in vitamins, minerals, protein and carbs, available in sweet and savoury varieties in a very convenient packaging, outstanding value. 

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About the Author

Matt Chittock

Freelance Journalist

Articles by Matt Chittock
Matt Chittock
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