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According to Ready Meals, a new report published by market intelligence provider Key Note, the market for ready meals grew by 6.6% in 2011, to reach a value of £1.85bn. The economic crisis and a demand for convenient mealtime solutions are the main factors behind this growth.
Although consumer confidence has plummeted with the economic crisis and a cloud of financial uncertainty hangs over the public's head, the ready meals industry is remaining resilient through the hard times. Moreover, it is actually benefiting from the downturn as consumers stay at home in an effort to save money. The rise of the 'dining trend' has been a key feature of changing consumer habits in recent times; consumers can no longer afford to eat out and are seeking to recreate the restaurant experience at home. One of the benefits of dining out is that the meal requires little to no preparation by the consumer. Furthermore, as more and more consumers lead increasingly busy and hectic lifestyles, they do not have the time to cook meals from scratch, preferring to opt for convenient mealtime solutions instead. This puts ready meals in a prime position to take advantage of the economic crisis.
Cheap and bland are two adjectives that have traditionally been associated with ready meals. However, although consumers are eating at home instead of out to save money, they still want to treat themselves to affordable luxuries. This has created a demand for premium ready meals and opened the door to innovation, as consumers want to try new dishes and exciting flavours. Consumers are looking for nutritious and tasty ready meals that are made with quality ingredients. There is also a niche in the market for products that meet consumers' growing dietary requirements, including vegetarian variants and gluten-free options.
Own-labels dominate the market in the ready meals industry in the UK. This presence has put pressure on brand manufacturers to engage in promotional activity in order to remain competitive. However, in 2011, brands were better able to respond to consumer demand for quality ready meals than supermarkets. Moreover, retailers have been slow to respond to consumers' desire to try new exciting and exotic flavours. Italian has overtaken English to become the favourite cuisine in the industry, while Mediterranean-themed and Mexican ready meals are increasingly popular in the market.
With no foreseeable end to the economic crisis in the near future, Key Note expects that the industry will continue to do well over the next 5 years. Innovation and convenience will help to drive this growth. Key Note anticipates that more and more vegetable portions will accompany ready meals, as consumers try and eat a balanced diet; dynamic flavours and original products will be introduced to the market; and consumers will put quality ahead of price.