The European ready meal market continues to do well despite a general tightening of household purse strings; Canadean analyst Ronan Stafford tells FoodNavigator three key trends within this burgeoning sector.
Today’s generation of young people travel more and in general are more at ease with influences bought by contemporary immigration, meaning that in food tastes they are much more adventurous and open to experimentation than past generations.
As a result retailers are under increasing pressure to offer a much broader product range. “Particularly with ethnic food. Consumers' expertise of ethnic food is growing and is already quite extensive,” said Stafford.
“They might have the time on their hands to cook a full meal but they might not have the culinary expertise to prepare these kinds of foods. So ready meals offer the opportunity to eat a Chinese meal or a Thai curry, which the consumers themselves couldn't prepare unless they went out to a restaurant.”
As consumers become more knowledgeable and experimental, their standards have risen demanding now a much higher level of specificity: “Simply labelling something as a Chinese food is not going to wash any more. Consumers are going to want to know: Has it got lemongrass, has it got ginger, has it got a specific spice set that they are looking for?”
While convenience remains key, this no longer means just putting something in the microwave for thirty seconds.
“When you talk about the convenience that ready meals offer it’s not necessarily all about speed of preparation but rather that opportunity to fill your time with something else,” said Stafford.
Ready meals are increasingly seen as a way of getting more from the time spent preparing.
“If you have a dislike of cooking and you don’t have a ready meal, you’re more likely to prepare something that’s very basic. For example with a ready meal you can have a full rice dish, or a full pasta dish which otherwise you might not be inclined to prepare.”
There has been a marked shift in consumer expectation surrounding ready meals, led by or leading to an increase in premium label ready meals. Stafford suggests this has pushed up quality.
“Ready meals look a lot better and taste a lot better than they did before. Consumers who might have been put off by lack of taste are no longer put off by that,” said Stafford.