There has been a considerable backlash against artificial additives in packaged foods in the light of negative publicity on certain colours and preservatives, not least last year's Southampton study, which linked certain additive cocktails to hyperactivity in children. Consequently, retailers have been making serious moves to market their food products along healthy lines. M&S, along with Tesco, has been regarded as one of the pioneers in drawing up a list of ingredients to be eliminated from its products. And Asda set out to remove all artificial colours and flavours from its products by the end of last year. But the new move from M&S, which sells exclusively its own brand products, looks to be going one step further by catering to an increasing desire to cook for oneself instead of just putting a ready meal in the microwave - whilst still staking the same claim on quality. The UK retailer started selling a range of 150 ingredient products this month, and expects to be offering 300 by June. The initial line up includes store cupboard basics like dried vegetables, beans and grains, herbs and spices, accompaniments such as rice and noodles, and flour. On the other hand, for more convenient home cooking M&S is now to sell some recipe mixes for bread and cakes, and spice blends - both wet and dry. This caters to people who want to cook at home, but need convenience at the same time to fit the activity into a busy, high-pressure lifestyle. Michelle Strutton, a consumer analyst at Mintel, told FoodNavigator.com agreed that M&S is tapping into a trend for consumers who want more input in their meal preparation. "It is…appealing for those looking for high quality ingredients, possibly who buy these types of products from Waitrose and Tesco and Sainsbury's Premium ranges." She added that people are looking for higher quality in the foods they eat, and this trend has fuelled growth in the organic sector. Notably, some of the ingredients in the new M&S range are organic. Mintel data does not, however support any idea that the ready meals market is declining in the UK and that ingredient mixtures could be seen as a replacement to sales from that arena. The UK is a major market for ready meals, with 71 per cent of consumers saying they buy them and 23 per cent using them once a week or more. Strutton said that TGI Europa data used in Mintel's reports does not indicate that consumers in the UK aren't turning away from ready meals. "M&S is in a good position in the ready meals market because of its high quality image. In fact, the whole ready meals market is driven by own-label rather than branded products, especially in the chilled sector."