Heat Food & Drink the firm behind the Hotcan brand of meals in self-heating cans sells 20,000 to 30,000 cans of food a month to niche markets, such as the emergency services and builders on North Sea wind farms. While the firm has plans to grow sales of its range to 500,000 cans a month this year by breaking into other sectors where convenience is king such as the student market the ultimate prize will be to secure listings in supermarkets, according to the company's md Mark Taylor.
Heat Food & Drink has seven self-heating meals in its range. Products include pasta meals, beans and meat balls, curry, a vegetarian chilli and rice pudding.
In 10 years the self-heating sector will be producing between 200M and 300M units a month similar to Pot Noodle volumes claimed Taylor. "We aim to make self-heating products a mainstay of the supermarkets, We think it'll be a huge market and we intend to be the Red Bull the brand synonymous with the sector."
Heat Food & Drink is trying to succeed in a market sector where others had failed to make an impact, however. And the company has a sales mountain to climb: a spokeswoman for Mintel said sales of self-heating products were so small that the market research firm did not even keep track of them.
Offering some hope, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said there could be a market for the convenience they offered. But to be attractive to individuals such as students, the cost would need to be considerably lower than it is now, he added. "There is significant potential out there [for self-heating products] but the barrier to it is reducing costs."
Despite this obstacle, Heat Food & Drink recently completed a new facility near Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire capable of filling around 375,000 cans a month.
The firm plans to target speciality shops, such as those selling to students, army surplus and outdoor supply stores. This would enable it to build economies of scale and thus reduce the unit price of products, which sell for around £3.30. "We've lowered the price already because we're buying at higher volumes but, in 12 months' time, I expect to drop the price again to make it more accessible to the retail market," said Taylor.
Taylor said that if Heat Food & Drink achieves its growth targets by the end of 2012 it would expand its facilities and start making the contents as well, instead of buying them from other producers such as Heinz and Tulip.