This trendy dining experience is the new fast-food alternative for the ‘food-savvy and time-starved’

The reign of the golden-arches is a thing of the past. Fast-food chains, once glorified for their on-demand cheap eats, may find a contender in a cosmopolitan alternative: high-end ‘grab-and-go’ businesses. The rise of ‘grab-and-go’ dining can best be exemplified in the proliferation of the international sandwich shop chain Pret-a-Manger, what many would consider the progenitor of the ‘grab-and-go’ trend.

What started as a local patisserie in 1986 has since become a global dining sensation, with 450 shops worldwide in the UK, USA, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Pret’s wholesome marketing campaign that promises ‘100% organic’ products and alleged daily donation of leftovers to charity could be used as a template from which all grab-and-go food stores operate today.

Grab-and-go businesses have garnered popularity for their promise of freshness, sustainably sourced ingredients, and transparency. And, from a market perspective, it seems companies could seriously capitalize on the increasing demand for fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

“Modern consumers’ lives are getting faster, and they expect their fuel to be able to keep up,” Sharon Olson, executive director of the high-end catering business Culinary Visions, reported to CS News.

And, it seems grab-and-go businesses would be wise to indulge this demand, particularly among millennial consumers. According to Culinary Visions Fresh Perspectives study, 58% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 agree that delivered food is rarely fresh. Respondents also listed locally sourced ingredients to be one of the top indicators of freshness, with 84% agreeing that locally sourced food is the freshest.

Fresh food for ‘the working professional’

With so many fast-food outlets dominating big cities, it can be difficult to decipher grab-and-go stores from the masses of big-name fast-food chains.  So, what exactly gives grab-and-go stores an edge over traditional fast-food outlets?

Ladders sat down with Dana Bloom CEO and co-founder of Proper Food, a burgeoning grab-and-go business with locations in New York and San Francisco, to find out.

“Our target consumer is someone who is food-savvy and time-starved. They care a lot about food and what they put in their body but they don’t have time. Our food makes it possible for them to not have to make that trade-off. This concept is based on our own experience in the past as busy professionals,” said Bloom.

dana bloom proper food
Dana Bloom, Photo Courtesy Proper Food

A European flair

Proper Food was largely inspired by Bloom’s time spent as a working professional in London. Upon returning to the United States, she recounted feeling frustrated by the lack of fresh, expediently prepared food.

“During our three years in London, my husband and I noticed that fresh food was so much more readily available than it is here in the US. Back in the States, we found ourselves at lunch waiting online for half an hour just to grab a salad or getting something unhealthy. We felt that there shouldn’t be that big of a trade-off between quality and convenience,” said Bloom.

“In Europe, there’s a prioritization of real food — using the best ingredients, keeping it simple, really showcasing the ingredients themselves rather than trying to hide them and make them into something else. That’s definitely part of our philosophy – we have not jumped on the fake lab-grown meat bandwagon such as Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat because we’d rather present food as it is,” said Bloom.

proper food
Courtesy Proper Food

Food with a higher purpose

The European inspired propensity towards food also holds potential from an ethical standpoint. According to Bloom, “Europeans also tend to spend more of their disposable income on good, sustainably sourced food. I can slowly see this infiltrating into the US.”

Her inclination is spot-on. In fact, 59% of survey respondents listed sustainability as an important factor of consideration in their food purchases, according to Food Insight’s 2018 Food and Health Survey. Of these respondents, 7 in 10 consumers also attested that they’d give up one of their favorite food products for one that did not contain artificial ingredients.

“We think about what effects not own our food, but our community. We source locally whenever possible, and always source sustainably. That’s a key method of consideration when choosing our vendors,” said Bloom.

We’re also thoughtful about waste in our kitchen. If we have a tomato that’s damaged, we don’t toss it. All leftover food scraps are composted in our kitchens. We also donate all of our unused food every day…it boggles my mind that so many restaurants throw out their food. We’ve donated over 300,000 meals. In San Francisco, we worked with an organization called Food Runners; in New York, it’s Rescuing Leftover Cuisine — volunteers walk the food directly to local charities.”

While grab-and-go foods have yet to topple big-name fast-food chains as the primary choice for American consumers, their potential for future growth is irrefutable in big cities.

“People are more time-constrained and health-conscious than ever, and grab-and-go meets both these needs — great food, all-natural and healthy as possible without sacrificing delectability,” said Bloom.