, UK
/Meaningful Vision

Fast food menus focus on main meals and LTOs in response to shift in consumer demand

Main meals and combos are becoming increasingly important, followed by coffee.

According to Meaningful Vision's Market Intelligence latest report, in the top 70 UK fast-food chains, main dishes like burgers, sandwiches, pizza, and chicken now make up half of all items on a typical menu. Burger shops and pizza deliveries have an even higher proportion, with 54% and 76% respectively.  

The share of beverages ranges from 11% in pizza menus to 41% in coffee shops.  Additionally, baked goods play a significant role in the menus of both coffee shops 33%, and bakeries/sandwich chains 35%.

The main trend observed in menu structuring over the past year is an increase in the share of main meals, and a decrease in beverages, particularly cold drinks.  On average the beverage category has decreased by 2%, going from 25% to 23%, with the importance of coffee remaining unchanged.  The share of sides, snacks, and bakery/cookies has also declined. Interestingly, the growth in sales of main dishes was mostly supported by combo offers, which provide better value for customers.

"In the current economic climate, customers are increasingly favouring main dishes such as burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and chicken parts, while showing more restraint when purchasing cold drinks or snacks," comments Meaningful Vision CEO Maria Vanifatova.  

“It's interesting to observe that the importance of coffee remains largely unchanged in this context.  A significant number of coffee shop visits take place in the morning. The habit of grabbing coffee instead of breakfast on the way to work proves hard for many consumers to break.  However, the assortment of products paired with coffee, such as pastries or sweet baked goods, is declining, which may be an indicator that demand is shifting towards single cups.  These changes in consumer habits are reflected in the menu offerings and promotions of major chains."

LTOs play an increasingly important role in engaging customers.

A typical fast-food outlet menu contains approximately 200 items, including various sizes like small/regular/large cups or regular/large meal deals.  Pizza deliveries lead the way, offering a broad selection with 315 menu items, followed by sandwich shops with 221, and coffee shops with 176.

The latest report examines data collected in the UK over the past year and reveals most fast-food restaurants refresh at least 50% of their menu items, primarily driven by seasonal offerings and “Limited Time Offers” (LTOs). 

Coffee shops exhibit the highest menu turnover, especially in their food assortment, at nearly 100%, following a distinct seasonal pattern with flavoured Frappuccino’s, frappes, and lemonades in summer, pumpkin in autumn, and gingerbread and toffee during the holiday season.  In contrast, chicken fast-food chains have the lowest menu turnover at 10% annually.

The share of LTOs and seasonal items (available for a maximum of three months) comprises roughly 15% of the QSR chains' menus, with a 2% increase over the past year.  Categories with the highest proportion of time-limited items include bakery, cakes, cookies, sandwiches, and hot beverages, while pizzas, cold drinks, snacks, and salads occupy the lower end of this spectrum. Individual approaches to menu updates vary widely. 

For example, McDonald's introduces temporary menu items every few weeks, to encourage new trials, while providing exclusive in-app pricing for their loyal customers. Conversely, KFC adheres to a standard menu with minimal seasonal additions.  Starbucks, Costa, and Pret update their menus quarterly.

 "Overall, consumers are feeling the economic pinch, buying less items and looking for greater value for money.  Brands have responded by using LTOs to provide increased value to keep customers coming back.  With seasonal menus and LTOs playing a pivotal role in each company's product assortment and promotional strategy, keeping an eye on the competition helps in designing effective and timely strategies in response to shifts in customer behaviour”, comments Meaningful Vision.

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