Confirming the turnover target, company ceo Brian Stein told FoodManufacture.co.uk that £3m had been spent renovating a former engineering facility on Pate Road to produce healthier chilled ready meals for Tesco and Morrisons.
He added that ready meals now constitute around one fifth of Samworth Brothers’ total turnover of £716m, and also confirmed that the firm had won a £32m pie contract with Marks & Spencer (M&S).
Samworth won the business at the expense of Premier Foods subsidiary Brookes Avana in early June, in a move that could lead to 200 job losses at the latter’s Leicester site.
A further 70 ready meal-related jobs will also be created at further Samworth subsidiary Saladworks, which employs around 620 people and is based in the same city.
Flash in the pan?
Stein told the Leicestershire press that Samworth had created its new Flash in the Pan fresh ready meals range due to health concerns about ready meals.
Predicting sector growth, he added that adverse publicity meant the ready meal market stalled a couple of years ago, due to concerns about the non-use of fresh ingredients.
The latest Mintel statistics predicted that the UK ready meals market would be worth £2.7bn in 2010, with market growth of only 7% since 2005.
Euromonitor analyst Francisco Redruello warned in a blog entry late last year that ready meals had “lost some of their lustre” during the recession, due to cheaper frozen processed food and home cooking, with the latter also providing “fresher options”.
The industry is aware of such perceptions, and a new report from charity the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) aims at encouraging UK manufacturers to include more fruit and vegetables in 'composite foods' such as chilled ready meals.
The IGD identified technical barriers that discourage their inclusion: Heat processing that leaches colour out of vegetables and fruit and vegetables making products too thick to pass through processing kit.
The short shelf-life of fruit and vegetables, and the associated need for expensive modified atmosphere packaging, was also identified as a barrier by the IGD.
“The addition of fruit and vegetables can lead to an increase of moisture content. This in turn can increase the rate of spoilage or rejects in certain products,” said the report.
Samworth Brothers employs 7,000 staff across 13 businesses in Leicestershire and Cornwall.