Asian market ready for convenience

Microwave ovens and freezers have changed the way Asians think about and consume meals. This, combined with demanding lifestyles, has spawned the Asian ready meals culture.

There has been an emergence of ‘lifestyle’ ready meals in Japan, in response to the country’s fast pace of living.

Taiwan is a booming market. The second most important ready meals market in the Asia Pacific. Local diets and religious restrictions on the consumption of pork and beef are likely to constrain the development of meat-based ready meals.

The vegetarian ready meal market in India will grow. The vegetarian ready meal market will grow in India. Quick fix food. In much of Asia the ready meal market is still in its infancy. Ready meals are described as the aggregation of canned, preserved, frozen, dried and chilled meals, din­ner mixes and prepared salads.

They are products that have had recipe ‘skills’ added to them by the manufacturer, resulting in a high degree of readiness, completion and convenience. Ready meals are generally com­plete meals that require few or no extra ingredients. Some ready meals require cook­ing, while others simply need reheating. Ready meals are at an introduc­tory stage in many Asia Pacific countries, which means that ready meals addressing health and well­ness, including low fat/low calorie, wholesome fresh ingredients, are virtually non-existent.

Japan takes the lead

Despite registering robust sales performances during the period 2000 to 2006, ready meals in emerg­ing countries such as India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam are still in their infancy.

Per capita expenditure on ready meals in these countries was almost negligible, largely due to a lack of consumer awareness about such products, particularly in rural areas, as well as the dominance of home-cooked meals in local diets.

Japan leads the pack Japan is by far the most advanced market in terms of development of new health and wellness products.

According to Euromonitor International’s estimates, retail value sales of ready meals in Japan accounted for a massive 91% of the regional sales in 2006. Regionally, Japan is the most mature mar­ket and retail sales are dominated by tradi­tional lunchboxes and sozai (small dishes).

In fact, there has been an emergence of ‘lifestyle’ ready meals in Japan, in response to the country’s fast pace of living. Consumers are increasingly looking for ways of reducing stress and stress-related symptoms. In March 2006, Asahi Food & Healthcare Co launched Hatsuga Genmai Jikkoku Gayu, a new retort-packed sprouted porridge, using premium rice harvested in the Uonuma area with ten types of natural cereals (black soy beans, red beans, green beans and more).

Each package is fortified with 25mg of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA is believed to help with relaxation by releasing stress and promoting better sleep. This ingredient is not new to the market; it has also been used in alcoholic drinks, such as wine and Japanese sake. Taiwan’s global tastes Meanwhile, Taiwan is a booming market. It is the second most important ready meals market in the Asia Pacific region, with a robust average annual growth of almost 53% in the period 2000 to 2006 — an increase in actual total sales of about US$416 million.

In fact, the ready meals sector was a major area of development for packaged food between 2000 and 2006. Though the initial phase consisted of few brands and a very narrow range of traditional local cuisine, by 2006 this sector had an increasing number of brands, with local and international meal options for consumers to choose from, reflecting local consumers’ increasingly international tastes.

Think local

According to Euromonitor senior packaged food industry analyst Emily Woon, the ready meals landscape in the Asia Pacific region is diverse, with specific markets being at dif­ferent stages of development.

“One size does not fit all in the regional ready meals sector,” said Woon.

“Growth is dynamic but to tap it requires a country-specific approach.

“Therefore, it is important for manufac­turers to recognise the specificity of local conditions and tastes in emerging markets.”

For example, in India new product develop­ment will continue towards vegetarian dishes. Local diets and religious restrictions on the consumption of pork and beef are like­ly to constrain the development of meat-based ready meals, except in the eastern region of the continent.

In countries such as Indonesia where the ready meals market is at the introductory stage, manufacturers could develop processed versions of traditional meals in order to attract busy consumers who increasingly seek convenient foods that are easy to prepare.

“Such a strategy seemed to have worked well between 2000 and 2006 for a number of Indonesian manufacturers operating in the chilled and frozen aisles,” explained Woon.

“For example, chilled and frozen bakso, or beef-balls, have become increasingly pop­ular in Indonesia.”

Research and development

All Food Systems is a food ingredient man­ufacturer supplying the Australian and Asia Pacific region. Export manager Kym Balogh said that like every other company around the world, All Food Systems would like to be a part of China’s economic growth.

“However, we are also very aware of the emerging ready meal market throughout the rest of Asia,” Balogh said. “

Tastes and flavour vary from country to country, so the research and development department is aware that we are serious about exporting, and to do this we have to be flexible in development ideas.”

HSC International is an exporter of ready meals like instant noodles and pasta throughout Asia. HSC International managing director Steven Teo highlighted the importance of research and development, saying it was imperative that exporters researched new products, consumer concerns, culture, habit and pricing to have a full grasp of the export market requirements. Teo said that there will be an even bigger demand for ready meals, because people have higher purchasing power but are time poor, making quick meals an obvious choice.

All Food Systems’ Balogh also adds that being able to drop into the supermarket on the way home from work to pick up the crumbed chicken Kiev or the marinated or sautéed chicken skewers is a luxury spread­ing through the Asia Pacific region.

“Ready meal products in Asian super­markets is not something that will happen overnight,” said Balogh.

“Australian manufacturers have the expe­rience in ready meals, while Asian manufac­turers have ready access to the consumers.

“Getting ready meals that appeal to Asians onto supermarket shelves is the challenge for Australian manufacturers.”

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