In 2004, seniors (55+) accounted for 26 per cent of the European £11.1bn (€16.1 bn) ready meal market, according to a new report from Datamonitor.
A reflection of the wider modern society that sees growing numbers of singletons, an increasing number of seniors live alone, "as such the idea of cooking from scratch for one is generally unappealing," says Daniel Bone, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor.
But when it comes to positioning the convenience meal designs for seniors, food manufacturers must be sensitive to an accentuated level of cooking pride, says Datamonitor.
"Manufacturers need to be aware that they must offer the older consumer a sense of pride in feeling there was some skill in preparing the meal," adds Bone.
With an outlay of £847million, French seniors are Europe's biggest spenders on ready meals, followed by Brits (£778 million), Germans (£677 million), and Swedes (£220 million).
And at £130 million, Dutch seniors are spending the least.
The report cautions food makers that the sensory benefits of prepared meals also play an important part in appealing to older consumers, who are more likely to judge a ready meal against more authentic meals prepared from scratch.
Compared to seniors, those in the 25-34 age category and mid-lifers (35-44) - generally thought of as the most likely group to spend more on ready meals - only accounted for 19 per cent and 22 per cent respectively of total spending on ready meals in Europe.
Prepared meal consumption is also an urban and male phenomenon The UK (with 92 per cent) tops the ready meal markets in Europe, followed by Germany, with 91 per cent, and France with 80 per cent.
In these same three countries male consumption accounts for 57 per cent of market value, "suggesting that males are slightly more in need of a little help in the kitchen," says Bone.
The data suggests new openings for product development targeted sharply at the single male market.
Chilled meals to outpace frozen Looking ahead, the Datamonitor report suggests that despite frozen meals dominating the market in every country but the UK, consumption of chilled meals will grow the fastest.
"Chilled meals have grown in popularity as they are perceived to have improved sensory benefits, use better quality and fresher ingredients and contain fewer additives than frozen meals," says Bone.