Consumers interviewed by UK research firm Leatherhead Food said that although they viewed chicken nuggets and other battered or breaded foods as unhealthy, "most didn't forsee any drastic change in consumption levels over coming years", according to principal analyst Jonathan Thomas.
The market for coated foods is already significant thanks to strong growth in convenience foods. Leatherhead's new report says sales of coated foods in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain during 2004 were worth around €3.46 billion.
Half of these were generated by meat and poultry-based products (49 per cent), and the fish and seafood sector made up a further 40 per cent.
"Generally people eat coated foods once or twice a week, mostly for their convenience, although they are also viewed as good children's food," Thomas told FoodNavigator.com.
He added that although consumers will continue to buy convenient, coated foods, coated fish such as fish fingers and fish cakes could be set for a boost if negative media attention surrounding chicken nuggets continues.
A recent report by consumer group Which? claimed that chicken nuggets made by Tesco only contained 50 per cent meat. It was not the first time that nuggets sold in the UK have come under negative light.
"I don't think the market can get away from the fact that without a radical overhaul of what they put into them, they will not change their perception as unhealthy," said Thomas.
Yet there is also increasing awareness of the health benefits of fish, and breaded or battered fish products may be a handy option for people who are reluctant to handle fresh fish, said Thomas.
Other coated foods less likely to be perceived as unhealthy are coated cheese, still relatively new to retail channels but forecast to grow rapidly, and coated vegetables like onion rings, potato croquettes and breaded mushrooms.
"The coated cheese category is broadening with products like breaded mozzarella sticks and breaded cream cheese launched by Tesco last year. It is still more evident in the food service sector but trends do spread from food service to retail," noted Thomas.
Efforts are also being made to improve the health aspect of coatings themselves.
"There is a trend towards lighter coatings such as flour-based marinades and glazes or popcorn coatings where breadcrumbs are combined with maize flour," continued Thomas.
Using non-fried coatings allows manufacturers to cut down on trans-fats.
Leatherhead has also observed an increase in spicy coatings, driven by the growth in ethnic foods in the UK.
The UK has the largest coated foods market in western Europe, due to the country's high penetration level of convenience foods. However, sales are also significant in France and Germany.
Leatherhead predicts that between 2004 and 2008, sales of coated foods by retailers in the region will increase by just over 18 per cent to more than €4.1 billion.
For more information on this report, contact Leatherhead Food.