Tate & Lyle
Carst and Walker

Authenticity, health and quality add to ready meals success

A review of tracked global launch activity in ready meals over the past year has identified some key trends, including ongoing interest in healthy options and more authentic-style ethnic recipes. There is also more emphasis on natural, organic and locally-sourced ingredients and more interest in restaurant-style products for in-home dining or home entertaining as an alternative to eating out, according to market researcher Innova Market Insights (www.innovadatabase.com).

While convenience continues to be the key positioning for ready meals and prepared foods, over 36% of introductions tracked used a health positioning of some kind.

Passive claims, such as low-calorie, natural, organic, etc., dominated, but also more active claims, such as vitamin- and mineral-fortified, weight management, heart health, etc. were reported.

The highest levels of health claim usage were among ready meals and meal components, at nearly 50% of total launches, falling to less than 25% for categories generally much less widely associated with health concerns, particularly meal kits, pizza and sandwiches.

Rising interest in “naturalness” and clean labeling has been a feature of the food and drinks market as a whole in recent years, and ready meals is no exception, despite the challenges presented by its inherently “processed” image.

Over 17% of launches recorded by Innova Market Insights were positioned as additive- and/or preservative-free, over 5% as natural and nearly 6% as organic, resulting in nearly 25% of introductions using either one or more of these claims.

The next most popular health-related claims related to free-from or low and light products, with over 6% using a gluten-free positioning and just under 6% a low fat claim. A significant number are also specifically positioned on a vegetarian platform, equivalent to over 10% of global launches in 2011.

Lu Ann Williams, Research Manager at Innova Market Insights, concludes that, despite difficulties in some parts of the market, product activity in ready meals is continuing as a result of ongoing demand for convenient meal solutions among time-pressed consumers.

“The downturn in consumer spending in many countries and increasing concerns over the health aspects of convenience foods may have a negative effect on the market in some countries over the next few years,” she concurs, “but product activity is increasingly focusing on health issues as well as adding value.”

For Williams, the sector is generally well placed to take advantage of the reduction in eating out, with a growing range of in-home options.

“These include meal centers, complete meals and meal kits as individual portions or family or sharing packs, including higher-value-added choices for in-home meals and even formal entertaining,” she concludes.

Innova Market Insights, www.innovadatabase.com

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