With the rise of discount chains as serious competitors, the supermarket “big four” – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – are engaged in a grisly race to the bottom. A recent survey of Britain’s Biggest Brands made the shocking discovery that 62% of supermarket brands lost value in 2016, as supermarkets, rocked by the disruptive presence of German retailers Aldi and Lidl, continue to slash prices. On the face of it, the prospects seem gloomy; but the sector-hopping agility of certain brands, pioneering a migration to foodservice, points the way forward.

Worth an estimated £88bn, the foodservice sector – which includes everything from school dinners to bar snacks – is an attractive prospect for brands looking to add value and achieve better margins. A great advantage of many retailers in this sector is that – unlike what is going on in the supermarket landscape – they are avowedly premium establishments and are expected to be such by consumers. This means that a bag of kettle chips with your Costa coffee, or a pack of peanuts at the bar, can command a higher price than would be possible on a retailer’s shelf, giving brands the opportunity to add more value.

This is combined, in some cases, with the added bonus that consumers perceive prestige in brands when they pop up in desirable places: if a trendy London gastropub uses a particular brand of ketchup then that brand will enjoy, by association with the venue, a reputation for quality. Of course, an extremely common practice is for foodservice outlets to white-label brand products, which raises the uncomfortable spectre of “brand erosion”. But if brands are willing to juggle this potential risk, then the foodservice sector as a whole offers a very generous alternative to the constraints of the supermarket.

Some notable examples of brands leading the way in the foodservice sector include Pieminister, whose on-the-go pies are available to students at branded outlets on university campuses across the country; Fentimans, which is positioning its traditional soft drinks as premium mixers at various cafés and bars worldwide; and Pipers, whose premium crisps can be found in delicatessens, food-to-go outlets, cafés, bars and restaurants nationwide. As other brands continue to follow the initiative set by these examples, the future of the relationship between brands and supermarkets looks to become ever more ambiguous.