Latest research from MINTEL shows that ready meals are still in vogue. And while they were once the preserve of the couch potato, today they are more likely to appeal to health fanatics, as good-for-you varieties drive market growth.
The market for ready meals in the five largest European countries* increased by a healthy 5% between 2006 and 2007 alone to reach 8.4 billion Euros. What is more, sales look set for a further 18% growth and will almost reach the 10 billion Euros mark (9.9 billion Euros) by 2011.
"Despite their once poor image, sales of ready meals have continued to grow as manufacturers have successfully tapped into recent healthy eating trends," comments Michelle Strutton, European consumer analyst at MINTEL.
"European consumers have become more concerned about the quality of their food and saving time or effort is no longer a strong enough selling point. In the future, ready meals need to appeal to shoppers by continuing to offer other benefits which fit in with consumers’ lifestyles, such as organic, all natural ingredients and healthier-for-you recipes," she adds.
The UK ready meals market is still the largest when compared to Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Sales of ready meals here hit the 3 billion Euro (£2 billion sterling) mark last year, compared to nearer 2 billion Euros in France (2.0 billion Euros) and Germany (1.8 billion Euros).
And despite being the largest market the UK will see around a 25% increase in sales from 2006 to 2011 to reach 3.7 billion euros or £2.6 billion sterling. What is more, we Brits are most likely to eat ready meals more than once a week (23% according to TGI Europa), compared to just 9% in Germany - the least likely.
"Mintel’s research shows that the UK is still king of convenience," comments Michelle Strutton. "The ready meals market in the UK is by far and away the most advanced in Europe. Suppliers here, especially the leading retailers such as M&S, are quick to react to new consumer trends, so offering a wide variety of exciting meals to appeal to everyone’s tastes," she adds.
Germany: Ready meals are more than just a flash in the pan
In the future, the German ready meals market will be the fastest growing of the five countries, expecting no less than 44% growth between 2006 and 2011.
"Due to the German’s interest in discount retailers and low priced produce in the past, sales of ready meals have been held back as they tend to be a more expensive choice. But ready meals will now benefit from the economic improvement that is seeing Germans start to concentrate more on higher priced options," explains Michelle Strutton.
France: Not yet a nation of convenience converts
Meanwhile, France, the home of fine food and dining, will see the slowest growth, with sales of ready meals increasing just 9% between 2006 and 2011.
"In France, families do still enjoy eating together when possible. On these occasions they will undoubtedly make more effort to cook from scratch, or at least use a combination of fresh ingredients and pre-prepared sauces and other convenience foods, which is why ready meals have yet to make the same impact on consumers," explains Michelle Strutton.
* Germany, France, UK, Italy and Spain.