U.K. Restaurants Rethink the Lunchbox

One of the newest trends in on-the-go dining in the U.K. is all about thinking inside the box.

Boxed meals and snacks for takeaway are appearing on menus at several of the U.K.’s top limited-service restaurant chains, promising consumers either a flavour-packed complete main dish or a hearty snack in the convenience of an easily portable (and easy to eat from) container.

Earlier this summer, London-based fast-casual chain Leon introduced a Lunchbox line of mains in takeaway boxes. Selections include a Thai Green Chicken Curry box, featuring slow-cooked shredded chicken thigh, roasted aubergine and bamboo shoots served on brown rice, and a Meatballs Lunchbox with beef meatballs cooked down in a tomato sauce, served on brown rice and finished with a handful of rocket.

Boxed lunches such as these may borrow their inspiration from Asian noodle/rice bowls—offering a protein, vegetables and a starch in one dish—but as the Meatballs Lunchbox illustrates, the possibilities for their flavour profiles extend far beyond any one region.

Chains such as Leon, POD and Crussh also position takeaway boxes as a filling, healthful lunch choice—a better-for-you alternative to a bagged burger and fries that also doesn’t leave customers juggling multiple grab-and-go items in an effort to create a full meal. Boxed lunches can be designed to target consumers’ specific nutrition/diet needs or flavour interests, too.

POD menus Power Boxes (protein-focused), Detox Boxes and Street Boxes (street-food-inspired). This summer, the fast-casual chain debuted a Mighty Salmon Box, described as “a protein-dense combination of beet-root-infused salmon, nutty grains, POD pickle, edamame, green cabbage and mixed greens” tossed in a lemon dressing. “Packed with vitamins and minerals, it’s a true beach body booster!” POD proclaimed. Worth noting: More than half of U.K. diners associate both Mediterranean and Japanese/sushi foods and flavours with “healthy,” according to Technomic’s 2012 U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report.

Offering a variety of choices to meet a variety of appetites and budgets is another key theme of restaurants’ boxed selections. KFC, for example, offers a Snack Box, a Lunch Box, a Fully Loaded Box Meal and a Big Daddy Box Meal. In case guests need guidance as to which to order, KFC offers suggestions. The description for the £1.99 Lunch Box notes: “Match your money to your hunger with two mini fillets and extra-large fries. It’s just enough.” Meanwhile, at Crussh, mini sushi boxes recently joined a lineup of sushi salad boxes available for takeaway or eat-in.

Here’s a sample of the U.K. chains exploring new dimensions of takeaway fare:

  • McDonald’s U.K.: Chicken Combo Box—New on the Summer Delights menu; consists of 10 McNuggets and 24 McBites.
  • Crussh: Veggie Sushi Salad Box—Inari tofu pouch; egg spring roll; salad of noodles, rocket, seaweed, marinated carrot and peas, edamame, goji berries and flaxseed blend with soy dressing.
  • Itsu: Steak in a Box—Grilled West Country beef on ginger scallion rice.
  • POD: Gym Box—With hummus, falafel, broccoli, pearl barley, green lentils, cabbage, carrot, spring onion, peanuts, tomatoes, chia seeds and mango dressing.

Whether positioned as a healthful meal for one or a more-indulgent, shareable snack, boxed fare offers restaurants a handy opportunity to stand out from the crowd via distinctive packaging and next-generation convenience.

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Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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