Trends shaping Australian prepared meals market

Today, consumers are discovering new ways to nudge themselves towards better habits and are taking a more holistic approach to their wellbeing. However, consumers don’t want to compromise on taste and experience, and food and drink products including prepared meals will need to find the balance between both taste and health.

According to Mintel estimates, Australia’s prepared meals market experienced moderate growth with a 4.6 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) in 2014-18, however, this is expected to slow down to 3.5 per cent CAGR over 2019-23. The biggest contributor in terms of sales value comes from chilled prepared meals with 31 per cent of the market value in 2018.

The prepared meal category has been highly competitive between both private label and branded players. More recently, foodservice/meal delivery brands such as YouFoodz and Sumo Salad (Sumo Well brand) have increased their presence in retail. Furthermore, private label chilled prepared meals have evolved to resonate with modern consumers by tapping into their changing needs and lifestyles. Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) indicates that private label makes up for 30 per cent of chilled prepared meals launches in the past 12 months to Nov 2019.

In Australia, Mintel Purchase Intelligence research shows that, even though private labels make up only for 30 per cent of chilled prepared meals, Australian consumers are more likely to buy them than branded chilled prepared meals. It further highlights that private label chilled prepared meals can rival branded chilled prepared meals as consumers perceive them to be on par in terms of excitement and tasty perception.

With Australia’s prepared meals market set to grow modestly over the next five years, there are some notable trends happening in the market.

Power to the plants
With a shift in consumer attitudes towards meat reduction and plant-based eating, brands are now embracing the plant-based meat trend and are now offering choices to consumers in the form of plant-based meat, wholesome vegetables and vegan prepared meals. Plant-based meat prepared meals are currently using similar marketing strategies whereby they leverage familiar dishes/ingredients that are traditionally made with meat.

However, with the rise of plant-based meat, there could be potential backlash with its over-processed image. According to Mintel GNPD, only 9 per cent of prepared meal launches between November 2018 and 2019 featured a vegetarian-friendly claim, hence, meat formats made from real vegetables, such as three-bean meatballs, could have more mass appeal.

Furthermore real vegetables can also be a hero ingredient in vegan-friendly meals.

Better For You
Consumers today are looking to achieve their health goals with everyday meals, and brands in the prepared meals segment have an opportunity to help them achieve this. Mintel GNPD highlights that high/added protein claims in prepared meals have achieved mainstream status with 37 per cent of prepared meals launches featuring a high-/added protein claim in the 12 months to Nov 2019, increasing from 23 per cent in Dec 2016-Nov 2017. However, communication about protein remains varied.

Furthermore, with only 12 per cent of prepared meals claiming high-/added fibre in the 12 months to Nov 2019, health claims beyond protein are gaining momentum. Brands can use a combination of different health claims such as high protein with fibre, calorie call outs or immunity to resonate with everyday consumers.

Brands also have an opportunity to enhance their health proposition by incorporating new emerging ingredients such as collagen and hemp. To help overcome the niche and unfamiliarity of these new ingredients, prepared meals can combine them with familiar and traditional ingredients, flavours or formats.

Elevated convenience through flavour and new occasions
In Australia, both private label and branded players are exploring regional Indian flavours and dishes to differentiate themselves by leveraging the momentum of Indian cuisine as it becomes mainstream. Mintel GNPD indicates that Indian-inspired prepared meals represent 11 per cent of the prepared meals category in the 12 months to Nov 2019.

Australia’s food, drink and culture has continually been influenced by Asia, and is reflected in the prepared meals category. From Korea to Japan, Indonesian to Vietnam, there is an opportunity to explore regional Asian ingredients and dishes to excite consumers’ lunch and dinner routines.

Prepared meals are traditionally aligned with snack, lunch and dinner occasions. However, breakfast is an untapped consumption occasion, which companies can tap into and explore both sweet and savoury. Also, sides to share in a bigger portion could complement the dinner occasion.