In times like these, consumers often swap healthy choices for food that’s better for their wallets. But are they actually looking for familiar, comforting choices within food to go (FTG) - or are uninspiring sandwiches all that’s available on a shoestring?

Waitrose launched its lettuce wrap - costing £3.50 - last year amid economic turmoil and a spike in traditional sandwich sales. Why refocus its FTG strategy on something seemingly left of mainstream? Consumers mostly shop FTG on auto-pilot and with an average budget of less than £3.

But it’s a common misconception that cash-strapped consumers always take the safe option. We believe they want to be inspired, regardless of budget. They tell us FTG, especially in the multiples, is often unremarkable, even ‘boring’. Waitrose has been innovative because it recognises this category sits front of store and has the potential to be a flag-bearer for a retailer’s position on freshness and innovation.

FTG is worth £11.5bn in the UK and has grown 7% in the last year alone, so treating it as a bolt-on and assuming consumers have put their demand for inspiration on hold is surely missing a trick. Through a consumer-led approach to ranging, merchandising and innovation, FTG has the potential to deliver a total experience, drive incremental growth and complement the wider proposition.

With the lettuce wrap, Waitrose has directed consumers to its Love Life range, a refreshingly modern approach to healthy eating. It has revisited the original insight behind the low-carb format (more fill, less bread), and reframed it to connect with today’s health-conscious consumer. It’s a clear demonstration of consumer involvement and confidence in trying more adventurous food, regardless of the financial climate.

So will delivering greater FTG inspiration lead to the death of the sandwich? Probably not. But the opportunity is there to ensure sandwiches are not the default purchases but part of a wider, more sophisticated FTG repertoire.

In a category that’s this big and that’s growing this fast, why miss out on the opportunity to create an FTG destination that we talk about back in the office?