The rise of ready meals

Convenience, health and sustainability are key ingredients in the ready meals category.

The emerging giant
The consumer love affair with ready meals remains undiminished. Not only has the value of the category shown constant growth over the past 15 years, the global market value amounted to EUR 80 billion in 2017 compared to EUR 53 million in 2003. Euromonitor estimates that the category will be worth EUR 92 billion by 2022, with steady growth across the world. The leaders in terms of value are North America, Western Europe and Asia Pacific, followed by Eastern Europe. Consumers in the Middle East and Africa and Latin America are still to be convinced of the benefits of ready meals.

UK – the largest market for ready meals in Europe
With regard to the market in Western Europe, Euromonitor reports that the combined value amounted to EUR 24 billion in 2017 with the market expected to grow to EUR 27 billion by 2022. The UK ready meals market is the largest in Europe and has posted an average of 2.5% year-on-year growth since 2003. In 2017, the retail value amounted to EUR 5.5 billion. France and Germany also have a well-established ready meals market.

The three largest categories in the UK are chilled ready meals, prepared salads and frozen ready meals. Prepared salads and chilled pizza saw the highest growth rates between 2012 and 2017 and prepared salads and dinner mixes are expected to see the most significant growth between 2017 and 2022. In total, the ready meals market in the UK is predicted to grow by an average of 4% annually over the next five years, and the market value is expected to be EUR 6.7 billion by 2022.

With promising growth rates and great potential, where is the category heading?

Time is precious: ready meals are the answer
According to consumer sociologist Nina Preus from the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, the growth in ready meals comes as no surprise. “For a long time, the ready meals category has been supported by consumer demand for convenience as lifestyles have become increasingly hectic. Time is a scarce commodity and a good work/life balance has become harder to achieve. This has paved the way for different types of convenient ready meals that reduce preparation and cooking time.

Many consumers, Nina points outs, are also looking for more than convenience and in this respect, health is a key factor.

Read also: Food trends that will become more prevalent in 2018

Healthy and delicious
With an ageing population and an increase in lifestyle diseases, the demand for healthy food has swept across the globe and has impacted the ready meals category. According to Innova Market Insights, new product development with accompanying health claims, saw an average annual growth rate of 13% between 2013 and 2017.

Health alone is not enough. It might form the basis of ready meals, but other aspects are also important. Nina Preus explains: “In addition to health in terms of lower energy content, less sugar and fewer artificial additives, consumers are also demanding new and exciting products. In fact, this combination of health and excitement is driving innovation towards healthier choices – and this is providing consumers with some exciting products.”

One way of adding excitement to ready meals is by including new ingredients and flavours, i.e. plant-based protein and ancient grains. According to Innova, all product launches within the past five years featuring rice, hemp or pea protein as ingredients have all grown substantially. In terms of grains, quinoa, bulgur wheat and spelt have proved particularly popular while Asian, African and Latin American flavours have gained firm culinary ground.

What’s next?
Although health and excitement are important drivers for ready meals, Nina Preus points out that sustainability and ethical consumption are also key factors: “Health is currently the main driver behind ready meals and will probably remain so in future. But consumer demand for sustainable food cannot be overlooked and could well become just as important in the ready meals category in the not too distant future.”

Finally, Nina Preus has also identified minor trends that will also bring growth and excitement to the category. “Food trucks are a major success in many parts of the world, offering a new take on authentic dishes. These could well offer fresh inspiration for the ready meals of the future. We are also seeing a “premiumization” of the category, with focus on exclusivity and high quality. On a smaller scale, we are seeing ingredients like beetroot, sea salt, chili and various types of nuts entering the ready meal category.”

Source: Euromonitor International and Innova Market Insights