The rise of ready meals (TV dinners step aside)

ready meals

Ready-meals, previously a success story confined to the UK, are now hot property here. According to IBIS World, the ready-meal sector has experienced an annual growth of 3.6% in Australia over the past five years to reach reported revenue of around $900 million. So, what does this mean for the Australian food industry? And how can you tap into the trend?

Ready meals, or prepared meals, are meals sold in a pre-cooked form either frozen or, increasingly, chilled. In the UK, Marks and Spencer (M&S) launched its first chilled ready meal in the 1970s – the humble chicken kiev. Since then, the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have joined M&S to become big players in the market, selling a variety of ready-made dinners as time-saving alternatives to takeaway meals.

Back in Australia, supermarkets are taking inspiration from the success of their UK counterparts, and ready meals have become a serious contender for consumer spending.

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Thinking of moving into the ready meals sector? Perhaps you want to accelerate the growth of your ready meals range? Here’s what you need to know to tap into the trend:


Convenience is king 

According to research firm GlobalData, fast and convenient food preparation options appeal to three consumer groups:

  • Parents
  • People who lead busy lifestyles
  • Young urbanites, especially single males

No surprises there, then. For busy consumers – especially those who live alone – ready meals can be the perfect answer to the dilemma of “what to cook tonight?”. Changing demographics, including the ageing baby boomer population and growing proportion of singles and couples without children, all point towards an increase in demand for fresh, high-quality ready-meal options.

Make it healthy

The days of frozen lasagna and chicken kiev as the only ready-meal options are long gone. The challenge for manufacturers is to develop healthy, nutritious and delicious ready meals to meet consumers’ demands for more vegetables, salads and gluten-free options. The good news is that consumers are willing to open their wallets to get what they want.

Coles has already jumped onto the healthy meal trend by launching a selection of over 40 new fresh and healthy ready meals. According to Coles, this “convenient and nutritious alternative to takeaway food” are made with quality ingredients and developed with Australian producers; the range of salads, soups, quiches, pizza, pasta and curries all carry Health Star Ratings.

Gluten free is another development showing no signs of slowing. Among the top-50 statements on-pack for snacks and prepared meals launched in the past five years, gluten free was in the top five.

Serve up five-star dining

Food manufacturers have started to introduce a range of innovative ready meals positioned around premium quality. Where frozen ready meals were once targeted towards the lower income demographic, now it’s about meeting the needs of time-poor consumers.

To see the extent to which UK supermarkets have grasped this market opportunity, you simply need to look at M&S Valentine’s Day ready-meal offers. In 2017, the “Dine in for Two” deal included a starter, main, side dish, dessert, wine and a box of chocolates for two. And with options including scallops, steak, garlic mushrooms and raspberry pannacotta for just £20 (A$35), it’s little wonder the deal tickles consumers’ taste buds year after year.

Research shows that consumers are looking for fancy twists on traditional ready meals. For example, there’s a growing demand for pizzas with flavour-enhancing and health-boosting ingredients within the dough. Also, different formats of vegetables can create standout for female consumers.

Get the leading edge

Ready meals are at the forefront of innovative food manufacturing. Manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to tick all the boxes for consumers: nutritious, tasty meals that are easy to prepare and maintain high quality. Ingredients manufacturer Budenheim has launched a new ingredient that keeps microwavable snacks – such as baked treats – crispy on the outside. The Budal MW500 allows food manufacturers to expand their ready-meal ranges to include items that previously lost quality during microwaving, such as croissants and pastries.

Meanwhile, the CSIRO worked with Preshafoods to develop High-Pressure Pasteurisation (HPP), a technology that uses extremely high pressure to give chilled foods an extended shelf life without affecting the colour, flavour, nutritional value or taste.

Enticing packaging

Ready-meal packaging plays a critical role. It needs to entice the consumer to select the product from the shelf, while also minimising steps in the preparation process. At the end of the day, consumers want packaging that is easy to use, efficient and effective.
In the UK, Campbell Soup Co’s Prego and Pace brands of ready-meals are hot on the trend with a new standup microwave pouch. The award-winning pouch not only self-vents, but also converts into a bowl by tearing off the top section after heating. This is the ultimate in convenience, as diners don’t have a bowl to wash up after eating. As the packaging says: “All you need is a fork, a minute and a microwave.”

See-through packaging is also growing in popularity as a way to show off healthy ingredients and freshness, something that consumers cite as a top influencer when buying ready meals.

ready mealsFinal word
It’s no longer as simple as a 60-second microwaveable TV dinner.

Winning time-poor consumers means offering ready-meal choices that are a real alternative to fresh homemade meals. This means an assortment of interesting, nutritious and flavoursome – not to mention beautifully packaged — meals that can be prepared with minimal fuss and time. And those manufacturers who can get this mix right will no doubt have the key to a growing market.

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As a ready-meal processor, it’s also important to keep customers safe and satisfied with fit-for-purpose products. Check out the best technology for ready-meal inspection.

Of course, all ready meals also need to be coded and labelled. Check out the best technologies.

Check out Matthews’ vast resource library. It has a host of detailed information that’s all free to download! There are whitepapers, presentations we’ve done to industry bodies, infographics for manufacturing, case studies, articles from our thought leaders, vids showing solutions in action and more!


Image credit / monkeybusinessimages

Matt Nichol
Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.
Matt Nichol

by Matt Nichol

Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.

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