Traditional British premium ready meals experienced unit growth of 7% and 8% in value in the last year, the company said.
Posh, higher-priced chilled products represented two thirds of sales of premium ready meals and 92M packs were sold in the last year, bringing in a total of £293M in revenue, it claimed.
IRI said a renewed focus on quality and good value, instead of looking for the cheapest option, and market innovation had helped power the growth.
“Consumers can have a pretty good quality meal and a bottle of wine in the comfort of their own home for as little as £10 if they buy a ‘ready meal deal’ offered by Tesco, Marks & Spencer and other supermarkets,” said Richard Moule, director of analytics and shopper knowledge at IRI.
‘Stand out trend of the recession’
Moule said the most obvious trend of the recession had been the shift in consumer spending to cope with a reduced disposable income. So whilst the credit crunch kicked in, premium ready meals surprised many by booming, he added.
“It’s the new big night in and has fuelled value sales of premium chilled ready meals by 8% year–on–year. Many premium ready meal manufacturers aim to deliver restaurant quality food instead of the traditional take-away two minute meal solution.”
British shoppers spent £305M in the last year on chilled ready meals, averaging out at more than 150M packs.
Moule said: “Ready meals answer a demand for decent tasting food without requiring any cooking ability. They are also an easy solution to changes in family eating times where family members eat separately at different times and sometimes even demand different meals, as well as the 21st century ‘no time’ issue.”
Despite this, the overall market – frozen and chilled – had been in decline and 65% of consumers claimed they wanted to eat fewer ready meals and cook more, he said.
‘Fallen off a cliff’
Moule claimed that despite the UK becoming “obsessed with cookery programmes”, such as Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals and The Great British Bake Off, people’s ability to cook had “fallen off a cliff”.
As a result he predicted that the premium ready meals market would continue to experience growth over the next three to five years.
Earlier this year, posh ready meal manufacturer Charlie Bigham told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the horsemeat crisis had led more shoppers to choose premium ready meal brands.
The business reported a 72% growth in sales in the past year and this week announced it had sold its one millionth fish pie, after sales of the product began 17 years ago.
Bigham’s range of ready meals are targeted at couples that want to enjoy an evening in together and a high quality, despite having to wrestle with a busy lifestyle.