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Health is key in ready meal growth, report

By Lorraine Heller , 19-May-2010

Ready meals continue to lead the European market for frozen and chilled foods, although the category will likely undergo a wave of reformulation as manufacturers attempt to improve the health profile of their products.

A recent report by Leatherhead Food Research (LFR) says sales in the sector reached €15.36bn last year, and are expected to reach €16.87bn by 2013. The frozen and chilled foods category includes ready meals, pizza, coated foods and savoury bakery products.

Ready meals accounted for the largest slice of the market – almost 43 per cent in value sales in 2009. Pizza followed in second place at 24 per cent, and coated foods (usually fish- or poultry-based products) accounted for 23 per cent of the market last year.

“Ready meals are expected to remain the Western European market’s largest sector, rising by 9.5 per cent between 2009 and 2013 to reach €7.21bn. More dynamic growth is forecast for pizza, which is expected to increase by 11.4 per cent to almost €4.1bn. By 2013, the market is expected to exceed €4bn in value terms, up by 11.4 per cent compared with levels in 2009,” writes Leatherhead.

UK leads on convenience

The UK is by far the largest market for these products, worth €6.07bn in 2009. In second place is Germany (€3.07bn), followed by France (€2.17bn) and Spain (€1.16bn).

In the UK, consumers prefer chilled foods, while in Germany frozen foods are more popular. The frozen sector also dominates in Italy and Ireland, although its share of overall sales is slightly lower than in Germany, says the report.

“In the Italian market, frozen products account for around two-thirds of value sales, compared with 62 per cent in Ireland. In contrast, the chilled sector is the larger of the two sectors in places such as the UK, France and Spain, with value shares ranging from 63.9 per cent in the UK to around 55 per cent in France. With sales worth €3.88bn in 2009, the UK has Western Europe’s largest market for chilled prepared foods by some distance.”

Health is important

Ready meals are expected to remain the market’s largest sector, rising by 9.5 per cent between 2009 and 2013 to reach €7.21bn. More dynamic growth is forecast for the pizza sector, which is expected to increase by 11.4 per cent to almost €4.1bn.

Factors such as health and taste are expected to remain important to consumers as well as convenience in both categories, with demand for premium varieties projected to increase again once the economic situation improves, says Leatherhead.

In the UK in particular – where some consumers appear to be turning back to more ‘natural’ products made from scratch – health will be key to the category.

“It seems likely that product reformulations will continue to feature strongly within the market, as manufacturers strive to improve the perceived healthiness of many frozen and chilled foods.”

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