Industry update: variety fuels ready meal growth

The ready meal segment in Australia experienced growth during 2006-07, having developed healthier, fresher products, a greater number of which were gourmet.

Over the last three years there has been a dramatic shift from frozen to chilled ready meals, which are stored in retailers’ chiller cabinets.

Frozen meals such as Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine range have been superseded by fresh chilled meals including lasagnes and soups, which are precooked and packed in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP).

Packaging

Indeed, technological advances in packaging formats, including MAP, vacuum shrink bags and flexible stand-up pouches have fuelled an increase in the ready meal segment, making it possible for manufacturers to extend shelf life without freezing and offer consumers a visually appealing product on the shelf.

Changes in packaging from a sachet-in-box format to a cup and tray have had many benefits for the ready meals sector including increased portability, portion control and cost reductions.

According to Woolworths, people are more comfortable consuming meat-based products in cup style packaging.

Factors fuelling growth

Ready meals have become more in demand as the quality of the products, in terms of taste, nutritional value and variety has increased, and the appearance of the packaging has improved.

As consumers lead ever-busier lives and become more time-poor, the demand for ready meals has increased.

However, the ready meal industry faces competition from other affordable convenience food sectors such as restaurants and take-away outlets.

Meal substitutes such as liquid breakfasts and snack bars are also competitors as people assume busier lifestyles and eat on the run.

Premium, restaurant-quality ready meals, including ready-to-eat salads, pastas and curries, have experienced growth in line with consumers’ willingness to spend more on higher quality healthier pre-prepared meals, and in line with competition from other convenience foods.

Euromonitor reported that 2005 and 2006 saw manufacturers launch healthy alternatives to existing product ranges, including reduced salt and reduced fat items, appealing to health conscious consumers.

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