Plant-based ready meals the ‘fastest growing’ in category, survey finds

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/4421010037
Image: Getty/4421010037

Related tags Ready meal

Plant-based ready meals are becoming more available and cheaper than meat SKUs in the UK, according to a survey.

A survey of 2743 ready meals across 10 UK supermarkets by the Eating Better group revealed there were 267 plant-based ready meals available to consumers – a rise of 92% compared to its first survey in 2018.

Supermarkets where plant-based ready meal offerings had risen the most were ALDI and Tesco, where they were up 175% and 103%, respectively. 

Meat-based products still made up 70% of ready meals surveyed – but this represented a drop of 9% since 2018.

The analysis also found plant-based ready meals were also cheaper per portion than meat meals at seven out of ten chains it surveyed.

Eating Better wants consumers to eat “less and better” meat and dairy for health, environment, animal welfare and social justice reasons. It is campaigning to see meat-based options reduced to make up no more than 50% of ready meals ranges in retailers. According to the latest research by Mintel, 86% of UK adults eat ready meals, with three in ten people eating chilled ready meals at least once a week.

The near £4 million ready meal category therefore offers an affordable and accessible way for consumers to enjoy ‘more healthier and sustainable diets’, the group said

However, health and sustainability credentials of the plant-based category often attracts scrutiny​. 

Simon Billing, Executive Director at Eating Better, told FoodNavigator the group wants to see “more balance” on shelves.

“A diet heavy with meat and cheese is not good for us or the planet and currently we eat too much of both,”​ he said. “Our research shows that 84% of the meals we surveyed contain meat, fish or cheese and that 51% of meat meals contain red meat. Science tells us that for our own health and to help tackle climate change and nature loss, we need to be moderating our meat and dairy intake. If we all ate a bit less meat and swapped in some more veg and pulses, it’s better for our health and the environment.”

A recent report by the Food Foundation revealed 77% of adults are eating less veg than recommended by the Eatwell Guide. Almost a third of children aged 5–10 years old eat less than one portion of veg a day, it added, while with the proportion of people eating little to no veg has increased over the past decade for both adults and children.

“Retailers also need to meet corporate climate commitments and sustainability targets so what they say and what they sell needs to match, which in practice means less meat and more veg across the board, not just in prepared products,” ​he added. “We’d like to see meat meals make up no more than 50% of all retailers’ ready meal ranges, as well as reduced portion sizes for meat and cheese in prepared products, having more veg, whole grains and pulses in all ready meals, and more plant-based options on the shelves.”

Meet the world’s first ‘carbon neutral ready meal company’

Shane Ryan, founder of fiid, the Irish plant-based company that claims to be the world’s first ‘carbon neutral ready meal company’ said being plant-based was “a huge advantage because plants and vegetables are proven to have lower greenhouse gas emissions, compared to meat and dairy. Of course, this depends on how plants and vegetables are produced and transported”.​ 

He added that being in the ambient aisle is also an advantage in lowering emissions.

“Being a long-life ready meal resulted in a positive impact as well. This mainly is a result of our logistics emissions. Because we are an ambient ready meal, we don’t require chilled or refrigerated transportation for most of our markets. Refrigerated transportation has been referred to our team as ‘air conditioning on water’, which leads to much higher emissions. If we were a fresh, chilled or frozen brand, we would require chilled and refrigerated transport for all our markets, leading to significantly higher emissions. 

“Although these two areas brought us positive results, we are looking at ways to reduce their emissions output by sourcing ingredients closer to our manufacturer and partnering with logistics companies with robust sustainability agendas.” 

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