A recent study by Spanish market research group DBK showed that ready meal sales were worth €1.08 billion in 2003, some 7.5 per cent ahead of the previous year. While this growth was lower than the 10-15 per cent rates seen in previous years, those earlier levels were due to the fact that the market was little more than a niche.
Most encouraging of all is the fact that Spanish consumers are increasingly turning to more premium ready meals, in turn related to the continuing efforts of manufacturers to improve their products' quality. Companies have also been successful in increasing sales not only among consumers, but also among foodservice operators, another significant factor in increasing growth.
Frozen and chilled ready meals were the most dynamic sectors in 2003, fuelled by a raft of new product launches - in particular of vegetable- and fish-based frozen ready meals and of chilled pizzas. The market grew by 9 per cent in 2003 to reach €694 million, DBK said.
More mature ready meals sectors - essentially shelf-stable and dried products - have invested heavily in new product innovation and in marketing in a bid to keep pace with the growth in frozen and chilled products, but they continued to see their share eroded, with shelf-stable ready meal sales rising just 5.3 per cent to €200 million and dried meal sales increasing 4.5 per cent to €186 million.
There are around 260 companies currently producing ready meals for the Spanish market, the survey showed, with a number of new companies joining the market over the last year as it continued to grow. The top five players in 2003 were Gallina Blanca, Casa Tarradellas, Grupo Pescanova, Nestlé and La Cocinera, which together accounted for 51.6 per cent of total value sales. The top ten firms accounted for 64.6 per cent.
While such a large number of players - and the fact that just a handful already account for the lion's share of sales - would suggest that some kind of consolidation cannot be too far away, DBK remained bullish about the growth prospects of the market. Growth will continue to slow in 2004, with sales likely to be some 7 per cent higher than in 2003, but the analysts predict a further wave of new product development in 2005 which should lift sales to around €1.2 billion by the end of that year.
Chilled and frozen meals will continue to drive the market, with sales likely to be between 8 and 8.5 per cent higher in both 2004 and 2005, DBK predicted, but shelf-stable products should also see modest growth (of around 5 per cent) as manufacturers produce ever more sophisticated products. Dried products are also expected to show modest growth for both years, of around 4 per cent.