Ready Meal Trends

At the end of 2019 a StreetBees poll found that 35% of consumers had planned to reduce their ready meal consumption in 2020, largely because of concerns that they were overly processed. Then followed the pandemic of 2020, providing consumers with more time to spend at home preparing meals themselves, meaning the £1.9b Chilled Ready Meals market was destined to take a hit.

We’ve taken a look at the key purchase drivers for Ready Meal consumers and outline how Ready Meal producers can maintain their relevance as life slowly returns to normal, post pandemic.

What do Ready Meal consumers want?

Taste & price are by far the most important purchase drivers for consumers of ready meals and it’s likely that the income squeeze triggered by COVID-19 will mean an even more heightened focus on price (currently prioritised by 67% of buyers). As in the last recession, meal deals are likely to do well as people both look to rein in their spending and remain cautious about going out for meals.

Healthiness is a big influence on choice, prioritised by 44% of buyers, and is also expected to be heightened by a renewed focus on health following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Convenience is an obvious factor. Ready meals are almost universally used as an emergency meal solution with 75% of those who eat and buy them or ready-to-cook foods reporting this. While brands will want to be front of mind for the emergency meal occasion in terms of speed, ease and store availability, they also will want to appeal beyond this.

Trying new cuisines – Ready meals are seen as a good route into trying new cuisines, with 50% of buyers of ready meals/ready-to-cook foods buying them for this reason. There is an appetite for experimenting with emerging ethnic cuisines at home.

3 considerations for 2021

Wider trends seen across the food sector are emerging in the Chilled Ready Meals sector.

Healthy Mindset  

‘Healthier’ ranges are a long-established feature of the Ready Meals market & have previously come in two main guises:

  • slimming or calorie counted ranges that target those who are dieting or looking to maintain a healthy weight (ie Slimming World, Weight Watchers);
  • ‘balanced’ ranges that are more focused on balanced nutrition in terms of a mix of protein, balanced carbs and some of your 5-a-day (ie M&S Balanced for you).

More recently we are seeing efforts to call out other credentials that span beyond these, with many mainstream meals highlighting very specific information such as fibre or protein content. There is also a growing interest in locally sourced products as consumers seek out more sustainable ways of shopping and supporting British suppliers, which could become increasingly important for the ready meals market this year.

Plant Based

That 31 per cent of adults plan to eat more meat-free products in 2021 compared to last year (The Independent poll 2021) presents a huge opportunity for ready meals and ready-to-cook foods. Ready meals were a common feature of the Veganuary ranges with retailers recognising they need to work hard to lure shoppers back to ready meals, particularly when normality resumes. Bol dominate this space in the major mults with their ‘globally inspired, naturally tasty food for busy people who want to eat well’. From Power Pots to Salad Jars to Posh Noodles, they clearly meet the needs of their target audience at core meal occasions throughout the day.


Packaging development is a key means for brands to gain an edge in this market as 44% of eaters and buyers of ready meals/ready-to-cook foods say the amount of packaging puts them off buying these products more often.

There is a growing dislike of what is seen as too much packaging with 41% of people concerned about waste going to landfill. Being easy to recycle is the most important attribute of food packaging, cited by 65% of people. Brands are already taking action here, with most major grocers having phased out black trays for ready meals that cannot be recycled. Consumers’ heightened environmental focus in the wake of the pandemic adds impetus to the importance of sustainability.

It’s clear that consumers consideration of their grocery purchases & cooking habits have shifted significantly during the last two years, so it is not surprising that any growth seen in Chilled Ready meals has come from premium brands that focus on high quality, wholesome & innovative recipes made using natural ingredients. Consumers demand healthier options, adventurous flavours, nutricious recipes & minimal packaging – brands that can meet these needs will be well placed for success.

Wynne Business specialise in launching products & driving brand growth with UK retailers. We can help with any aspect of the sales & marketing process & offer tailor made packages for SME’s. Speak to us about your brand today!  

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Source : Mintel ‘Ready Meals & Ready to Cook Foods’, July 2020

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