Rise of the ‘grab and go’: modern eating habits and health concerns

Whereas sitting down at the table and eating a meal used to be the preferred, traditional dining etiquette, it now appears that grabbing food on your way out from one place to another is considered the way to go. Once perceived as rude and impolite, it is now a common practice for students and working people.

Dubbed as ‘grab and go’ meals, high street outlets such as Wasabi, which offer fresh handmade Japanese Sushi and Bento across the UK, seem to be thriving on this strategy. A box of chicken teriyaki or katsu curry can be bought for approximately £6, with the option of having it heated immediately or cold for microwaving later. Eating outlets across university campuses are simultaneously reflecting this trend.

Consensus from a student forum group at the University of East Anglia indicated that they enjoyed having the option to buy a pot of popcorn chicken or other indulgent and portable snack, due to the lack of time between lectures to sit down and eat a full meal.

Indeed, time appears to be the key contributing factor to this trend. A report from Campus Kitchen Catering highlights that:

‘Grab and Go has grown. On level 0 in the restaurant building, Blend’s income grew by 24 percent last term. Convenience is king, as customers are increasingly mobile and time-poor so we aim to provide a solid ‘grab and go’ offer with a quality range of products – offering a high, medium and low price range allowing customers to pick and mix with customised add-ons.

‘An attractive and easy to use ‘grab and go’ offer also helps ease seated dining congestion during busy periods whilst still fulfilling the need to provide a positive experience.

‘Queuing is considered less and less acceptable with customers looking for quick and convenient without losing quality. Speed of service and choice is important.’

However, the reputation of the ‘Western’ diet becoming increasingly affiliated with nutritional and health concerns, the rise of the ‘grab and go’ trend may not be very reassuring. Data gathered by the WHO suggests that by 2030, the proportional distribution of disability adjusted life years (DALY), which means years lost to poor health, disability or death, in high-income countries will be associated with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. These are risk factors of other degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer due to living longer. Concerns over whether the content of these so-called ‘grab and go’ meals satisfy nutritional values are therefore more important than ever.

Reacting to these concerns, Campus Kitchen tells Concrete ‘Although we see continued growth in healthful and conscious eating, some customers are choosing less healthy treats. We say it’s your choice and anything and everything in moderation is fine.’

By this virtue, where changing working and studying lifestyles mean that convenience appears to take priority over nutritional values, the need to find the balance is still an ever-present challenge, and one for which eating outlets and food retailers are showing increasing recognition of. That said, the question still remains: are retailers matching trending demands of convenience, or are trends influencing what retailers make available?

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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

If you would like to get in touch, email the Editor on Concrete.Editor@uea.ac.uk. Follow us at @ConcreteUEA.