Premium ready meals growth bucks the trend

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ready meal Marketing Food

Premium ready meals have benefited at the expense of 'value' products
Premium ready meals have benefited at the expense of 'value' products
Premium ready meals sales grew by up to 8% last year, despite more than half (65%) of consumers reporting plans to eat fewer such products and cook more, says customer insight agency Engage Research.

While ready meal sales in major supermarkets topped £2.3bn last year, the overall frozen and chilled market was is in decline, according to its researchers. The growth was fuelled by cash-conscious consumers switching from eating out to dining in, with a particular preference for higher end convenience lines. That category represented about two-thirds of sales, indicating a renewed focus on value and quality over price, said Engage Research.

‘Classic consumer disconnect’

Deborah Sleep, Engage Research director, said: “On the surface, this situation represents classic consumer disconnect between what we say and what we do.

“However, it’s not necessarily as simple as it seems. The growth is in the premium ready meal sector, where meals could be perceived as being better quality and better for you because they are less processed. Some of the premium products give the sense that you are ‘cooking’ in that you assemble the elements together and then cook fresh.”

Meal deals had been a key driver in this area, said Sleep. “There have been plenty of successful meal deal initiatives recently, which have paired perfect products together, and have made eating in much better value than going out. Importantly, though, these still feel like a ‘treat’ which, combined with the deal itself, makes you feel good.”

‘The right consumer understanding’

Even when a market overall is in decline, the right consumer understanding from well planned research can help brands identify and target segments and growth opportunities, she claimed. A combination of qualitative research combined with quantitative usage and attitude surveys can be particularly effective in delivering these insights, added Sleep.

Engage Research is an independent customer insight and market research agency specialising in consumer and market strategy and innovation, working mainly in the fast-moving consumer goods and media sectors.

Meanwhile, while chilled food manufacturer Greencore reported a fall in ready meal sales – particularly Italian ready meals last year – due to the horsemeat scandal, premium ready meal manufacturer Charlie Bingham reported soaring demand.

Last May, Greencore’s chief financial officer Alan Williams acknowledged that the horsemeat crisis had dented Greencore’s results in the UK. At the height of the crisis, Neilson data suggested the ready meals segment was down 15–20% week-on-week​. But that drop could partly reflect promotions in the same period of last year, he added.

Meanwhile, Charlie Bigham told last September: “Horsegate has been good for our business​ and businesses ​[making premium food products] like ours.”

Earlier this month, we reported that branded ready meal producers were likely to adopt the Red Tractor logo​ over the next few months.

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