UK Ready Meals & Ready-To-Cook Foods Market Report 2021 | Mintel.com (2022)

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Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the UK Ready Meals & Ready-To-Cook Foods market, including the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a growth of interest in cooking from scratch, with the desire to continue this will increase the pressure on the ready-to-cook market and the ready meals industry going forward. However, despite the ready-to-cook foods market being hit in 2020, the convenience proposition of these meals will become more appealing once more as lives become busier again in the post-pandemic normal. The pandemic has caused an increased focus on health and wellbeing, making continued healthier NPD crucial to the market.

  • Two in five people (39%) would like to be more involved in the cooking process of a ready meal/read-to-cook meal.
    Of these, 65% would find ready meals and read-to-cook meals that can be heated in a pan appealing.
  • Ready meals and ready-to-cook foods struggle to compete for the lunch occasion, 40% of people agreeing that they feel too heavy to have for lunch

Helping people feel that they contribute more to the cooking of these foods will help the market tap into the growing interest in cooking during the pandemic. The at-home lunch will be an increasingly significant opportunity for brands to capitalise on, given the long-term predicted trend of more flexible working. This accelerates the need for this category to improve its image as a suitable lunch option.

Ready meals/ready-to-cook foods are seen as a good way to reduce food waste by 48% of those who eat ready meals/ ready-to-cook foods, up from 38% in 2019. An increased focus on sustainability is predicted to be one of the long-term consequences of COVID-19. With recipe box services having made reducing food waste a central part of their USP, brands within the ready meal/ready-to-cook category can look to these companies for inspiration as to how to promote the sustainable credentials of their products.

Read on to discover more details or take a look at all of our UK Foodservice market research.

Quickly understand

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the ready meals and ready-to-cook foods market
  • Key trends in recent launch activity and opportunities going forward
  • Factors prioritised by consumers when choosing a ready meal/ready-to-cook food
  • Consumer behaviours and attitudes related to ready meals and ready-to-cook foods
  • Concepts of interest in ready meals and ready-to-cook foods
  • Ready-to-cook foods UK industry.
  • Ready to eat food market UK.

Covered in this report

Brands: Premier Foods (Bisto), Kershaws, Kraft Heinz (Weight Watchers), Iglo Foods (Birds Eye), Amy’s Kitchen, Wasabi, Leon, Yo!, Sainsbury’s, Charlie Bigham’s, Mcintosh, The Cook Kitchen, Kerry Foods (Daisy Hill), Eight Fifty Food Group (Young’s), Nomad Foods (Aunt Bessie’s), John West, Princes, Hormel Foods (Stagg), Wicked Kitchen, Plant Menu, Higgidy Family Kitchen, Easy Bean, BOL, Asda, Biona Organic, Fiid, Iceland, Richmond, Mansby Street Kitchen, Wasabi Home Bento, Global Eats, Marks and Spencer (M&S), Waitrose, Morrisons, The Gym Kitchen, Fork & Dumbbell, Taste the Difference, Specially Selected.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

This report, written by Alice Pilkington, a leading analyst in the Food and Drink sector, delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

The market was hit in 2020, but the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in 2021 will see busier lifestyles return, making the convenience of these meal solutions more attractive once again. Consumer interest in freshly-made ready meals, and the view of these foods as combatting food waste, hold potential for the market.

UK Ready Meals & Ready-To-Cook Foods Market Report 2021 | Mintel.com (3)Alice Pilkington
Food and Drink Analyst

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • Key issues covered in this Report
    • COVID-19: Market context
    • Economic and other assumptions
    • Products covered in this Report
  2. Executive Summary

    • Impact of COVID-19 on ready meals and ready-to-cook foods
      • Figure 1: Short, medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • The market
    • Ready meals and ready-to-cook foods lose out due to COVID-19 in 2020
    • 2021 sales set to return to growth as COVID impact wanes
    • Market expected to rebound further in 2022
      • Figure 2: COVID-19 scenario value forecasts for ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2016-26
    • Chilled ready meals worst hit in 2020; frozen ready meals halt volume decline
      • Figure 3: UK retail value sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, by segment, 2019-21
    • COVID-19 increases focus on health and spurs on new government health strategy
    • PHE launches more salt reduction targets for 2024
    • Companies and brands
    • Charlie Bigham’s is big winner in chilled ready meals
      • Figure 4: UK retail sales of leading brands in chilled ready meals, by value, 2019/20* and 2020/21**
    • Own-label frozen ready meals unable to sustain 2019/20 gains
      • Figure 5: UK retail sales of leading brands in frozen ready meals, by value, 2019/20* and 2020/21**
    • Vegan claims overtake vegetarian claims in 2020
    • Branded players explore frozen and ambient with new ranges
    • Foodservice brands continue to expand in the retail sector
    • Healthier NPD will gain even greater relevance post-COVID-19
    • 2020 sees significant boost in adspend
    • The consumer
    • Ready meals/ready-to-cook foods remain on the menu for 86% of people
    • Chilled ready meals lead, usage falls with age
      • Figure 6: Types of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods eaten, 2019-21
    • Vast majority see chilled ready meals as infrequent treat
    • Younger demographics eat ready meals more often
      • Figure 7: Frequency of eating ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Healthiness is a priority for two in five
    • Dishes difficult to make at home prioritised by a quarter
      • Figure 8: Factors prioritised when choosing a ready meal/ready-to-cook food, 2021
    • Over two thirds would be interested in freshly made ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
    • Over a third would like to be more involved in the cooking process
      • Figure 9: Behaviours related to ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Significant further opportunities in plant-based in ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
      • Figure 10: Concepts of interest in ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Ready meals can position themselves as a sustainable choice
    • 40% see ready meals/ready-to-cook foods as too heavy for lunch
      • Figure 11: Attitudes towards ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2021
  3. Issues and Insights

    • Making people feel more involved in cooking process can help category respond to increased cooking from scratch due to COVID-19
    • Over two thirds would be interested in freshly made ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
    • Ready meals can position themselves as a sustainable choice
  4. The Market – Key Takeaways

    • Ready meals and ready-to-cook foods lose out due to COVID-19 in 2020
    • 2021 sales set to return to growth as COVID impact wanes
    • Market expected to rebound further in 2022
    • Chilled ready meals worst hit in 2020; frozen ready meals halt volume decline
    • COVID-19 increases focus on health and spurs on new government strategy
    • PHE launches more salt reduction targets for 2024
  5. Market Size and Performance

    • Impact of COVID-19 on ready meals and ready-to-cook foods
      • Figure 12: Short, medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Ready meals and ready-to-cook foods lose out due to COVID-19 in 2020
      • Figure 13: UK retail value and volume sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2016-21
  6. Market Forecast

    • 2021 sales set to return to growth as COVID impact wanes
    • Market expected to return almost to pre-pandemic levels in 2022
      • Figure 14: Market forecast for the value of UK ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, at current prices, 2016-26
      • Figure 15: Market forecast for the volume of UK ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, at current prices, 2016-26
    • Market drivers and assumptions
      • Figure 16: Key drivers affecting Mintel’s market forecast, 2015-25 (prepared on 5 March 2021)
    • Forecast methodology
  7. COVID-19 Scenario Performance

    • Mintel’s approach to predicting the impact of COVID-19
    • Fundamental differences in how COVID-19 is affecting consumer markets
    • The risk of vaccine-resistant strains of COVID-19 adds uncertainty
      • Figure 17: COVID-19 scenario value forecasts for ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2016-26
      • Figure 18: COVID-19 scenario volume forecasts for ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2016-26
    • A small sales difference between Mintel’s rapid COVID recovery and extended COVID disruption scenarios in 2021
    • A setback to the vaccination programme could extend social distancing into 2022
    • Mintel’s rapid recovery scenario indicates a near return to pre-pandemic sales by 2022
    • COVID-19 market disruption: risks and outcomes
      • Figure 19: Summary of Mintel scenario expectations and the impact on the foodservice market, 2021
  8. Market Segmentation

    • Mixed fortunes across the category in 2020
    • Frozen ready meals see boost in value sales; ambient ready meals gain no boost
      • Figure 20: UK retail value and volume sales and shares of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, by segment, 2019-21
  9. Market Drivers

    • COVID-19 increases focus on health…
    • …and spurs on new government health strategy
    • Ban on HFSS volume and in-store promotion
    • Out-of-home calorie labelling to be required, on-pack nutrition label consultation proposed
    • Pre-9pm TV advertising ban could hit visibility of ready meals
    • PHE launches more salt reduction targets for 2024
    • Consumer confidence already returning to pre-pandemic levels
      • Figure 21: Key drivers affecting Mintel’s market forecast, 2015-25 (prepared on 5 March 2021)
    • Category needs to respond to needs of ageing population
      • Figure 22: Trends in UK population, by age, 2015-20 and 2020-25
  10. Companies and Brands – Key Takeaways

    • Charlie Bigham’s is the big winner in chilled ready meals
    • Own-label frozen ready meals unable to sustain 2019/20 gains
    • Vegan claims overtake vegetarian claims in 2020
    • Branded players explore frozen and ambient with new ranges
    • Foodservice brands continue to expand in the retail sector
    • Healthier NPD will gain even greater relevance post-COVID-19
    • 2020 sees significant boost in adspend
  11. Market Share

    • Charlie Bigham’s is big winner in chilled ready meals
      • Figure 23: UK retail sales of leading brands in chilled ready meals, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
    • Own-label frozen ready meals unable to sustain 2019/20 gains
      • Figure 24: UK retail sales of leading brands in frozen ready meals, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
    • Own-label ready-to-cook foods continue to bleed sales in 2020/21
      • Figure 25: UK retail sales of leading brands in ready-to-cook foods, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
    • Own-label ambient ready meals see minor boost in 2020/21
      • Figure 26: UK retail sales of leading brands in ambient ready meals, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
  12. Launch Activity and Innovation

    • Vegan claims overtake vegetarian claims in 2020
      • Figure 27: New product launches in the UK ready meals and ready-to-cook foods market making vegetarian or vegan/no animal ingredients claims, 2016-21
      • Figure 28: Recent examples of vegan own-label NPD, 2021
    • Higgidy enters category for the first time
      • Figure 29: Recent examples of branded NPD with vegan claims, 2020-21
    • Plant-based meals see significant ambient NPD…
      • Figure 30: Recent examples of ambient plant-based ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2020-21
    • Frozen and ambient segments see increased NPD
      • Figure 31: Share of new product launches in the UK ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, by segment, 2016-21
    • Iceland and others explore frozen ‘meal in a bag’ concept once more
      • Figure 32: Iceland changes packaging and removes brand name in relaunch of Meal in a Bag range, 2018-20
    • Branded players explore frozen and ambient with new ranges
    • Kerry Foods launches Richmond and new brand Mansby Street Kitchen into frozen ready meals category
      • Figure 33: Kerry Foods launches Richmond and Mansby Street Kitchen into frozen segment, 2020-21
    • Birds Eye aims to increase people’s weekly fish consumption with new Crunchy Traybake…
      • Figure 34: Birds Eye Crunchy Traybake Garden Vegetables & Signature Crumb Fish Fillets, 2020
    • …while John West claims a category first with two new ready meal ranges
      • Figure 35: John West launches two new ambient ready meal ranges, 2020
    • Foodservice brands continue to expand in the retail sector
      • Figure 36: Recent examples of foodservice brands expanding into retail, 2020-21
    • Retailers remain responsive to foodservice trends
      • Figure 37: Sainsbury’s new Global Eats range, 2020
    • Takeaway and ‘fakeaway’ dishes continue to attract NPD
      • Figure 38: M&S Food Saag Paneer Takeaway for One, 2020
      • Figure 39: Asda’s healthier ‘fakeaway’ range, 2020
    • Healthier NPD will gain even greater relevance post COVID-19
      • Figure 40: Share of new product launches in the UK ready meals and ready-to-cook foods with selected health claims, 2016-21
    • Waitrose and Morrisons launch new healthy ranges; Sainsbury’s expands My Goodness
      • Figure 41: Recent healthier NPD from Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, 2021
    • High/added protein claims continue to rise
      • Figure 42: Recent examples of NPD with high/added protein claims, 2020-21
    • 2020 sees big boost in premium claims
      • Figure 43: Share of new product launches in the UK ready meals and ready-to-cook foods with a premium claim, 2016-21
      • Figure 44: Recent examples of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods with premium claims, 2020
  13. Advertising and Marketing Activity

    • 2020 sees significant boost in adspend
      • Figure 45: Total above-the line, online display and direct mail advertising expenditure on ready meals*, by media type, 2019-21, sorted by 2020
    • Spending dominated by advertisers of branded products
      • Figure 46: Total above-the line, online display and direct mail advertising expenditure on ready meals*, by advertiser, 2020 and 2021
    • Home delivery companies are biggest spenders
    • Wiltshire Farm Foods and Parsley Box target older people
    • Charlie Bigham’s encourages people to take the night off…
    • …and makes Charlie himself central to its 2021 campaign
    • Nielsen Ad Intel coverage
  14. The Consumer – Key Takeaways

    • Health becomes higher priority for a third
    • Cooking from scratch increases due to COVID-19
    • Ready meals/ready-to-cook foods remain on the menu for 86% of people
    • Healthiness is a priority for two in five
    • Dishes difficult to make at home prioritised by a quarter
    • Over two thirds would be interested in freshly made ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
    • Over a third would like to be more involved in the cooking process
    • Significant further opportunities in plant-based in ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
  15. Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Behaviour

    • Health becomes higher priority for a third
    • Nationwide lockdowns see huge increase in working from home…
    • …with more flexible working predicted to be a long-term trend
    • Pandemic sees significant changes in grocery shopping habits
    • Cooking from scratch increases due to COVID-19
    • Where people live determines access to home delivery and takeaway services
    • Sustainability focus predicted to be long-term consequence of the pandemic
  16. Usage of Ready Meals and Ready-to-Cook Foods

    • Ready meals/ready-to-cook foods remain on the menu for 86% of people
    • Chilled ready meals lead, usage falls with age
      • Figure 47: Types of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods eaten, 2019-21
    • Vast majority see chilled ready meals as infrequent treat
      • Figure 48: Frequency of eating ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Younger demographics eat ready meals more often
      • Figure 49: Types of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods eaten, by age and frequency, 2021
  17. Factors Prioritised When Choosing a Ready Meal/Ready-to-Cook Food

    • No one factor prioritised by all when choosing a ready meal/ready-to-cook food
      • Figure 50: Factors prioritised when choosing a ready meal/ready-to-cook food, 2021
    • Healthiness is a priority for two in five
    • 39% prioritise short cooking/heating times
    • Dishes difficult to make at home prioritised by a quarter
    • Highlighting their convenient shortcut credentials will boost slow-cooked meals’ appeal
      • Figure 51: Recent examples of slow-cooked ranges and the use of slow-cooked elements in premium products, 2019-21
    • …while complicated dishes can also tap into this
      • Figure 52: Recent examples of dishes with many ingredients or using complicated cooking techniques, 2020-21
  18. Behaviours Related to Ready Meals/Ready-to-Cook Foods

    • Over two thirds would be interested in freshly made ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
      • Figure 53: Behaviours related to ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Hot delis and takeaway concessions hold further potential
    • Communicating freshness speaks to the same
    • Choice of packaging can also help to reinforce freshness
      • Figure 54: Recent examples of BOL products that enable people to see fresh ingredients, 2020-1
    • Over a third would like to be more involved in the cooking process
    • Products that have to be decanted can help create cooking connotations
      • Figure 55: Recent examples of ready meals positioned for heating in a pan, 2019-21
    • Rana recipe kits concept could be expanded to other cuisines
      • Figure 56: Rana recipe kits, 2020
  19. Concepts of Interest in Ready Meals/Ready-to-Cook Foods

    • Non-plastic packaging appeals to over a third
      • Figure 57: Concepts of interest in ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • Non-plastic packaging already being used by some brands
      • Figure 58: Charlie Bigham’s wooden trays, 2020
      • Figure 59: BOL calling out that its dinner box is 95% plastic free and detailing how the boxes are made, 2019
    • Soft drinks brands can provide cues on how to improve image of plastic packaging…
      • Figure 60: Coca-Cola and Evian calling out recyclability and use of recycled plastic, 2019-20
    • Significant further opportunities in plant-based in ready meals/ready-to-cook foods
    • Protein claims need to be made more prominent in meals with protein-rich ingredients
      • Figure 61: Recent examples of products with plant-based ingredients naturally high in protein making protein claims, 2021
    • Calling out grams of plant-based protein can elevate tangibility
      • Figure 62: Birds Eye Veggie Bowl calling out the amount of protein in grams and plant origin, 2020
    • Ready meals/ready-to-cook foods with meat alternatives should emphasise naturalness
      • Figure 63: Birds Eye Green Cuisine Meat-Free Bolognese Mix highlighting use of pea protein and its naturalness, 2021
  20. Attitudes towards Ready Meals/Ready-to-Cook Foods

    • Ready meals/ready-to-cook foods appeal widely for an evening in
      • Figure 64: Attitudes towards ready meals/ready-to-cook foods, 2021
    • ‘Fakeaway’ products remain warranted
      • Figure 65: Recent examples of world cuisine ready meals with takeaway positioning, 2020
    • Staying on-trend can help ready meals/ready-to-cook foods to stay on menu
      • Figure 66: Asda Piri Piri Chicken Meal For 1, 2020
    • Making the eating experience more immersive can help boost appeal of evenings-in
      • Figure 67: Recent examples of retailers using ceramic pots for starters in their premium ranges, 2020
    • Ready meals can position themselves as a sustainable choice
    • Recipe box services push ‘just what you need’ messaging
      • Figure 68: Contessa Cutting Board Pork Carnitas Street Tacos with no waste messaging, 2019
    • 40% see ready meals/ready-to-cook foods as too heavy for lunch
    • Messaging and packaging can boost suitability for lunch
      • Figure 69: Recent examples of ready meals calling out suitability for lunch, 2020-21
    • Lighter options can help ready meals/ready-to-cook foods tap into this significant occasion
      • Figure 70: BOL combining veg-forward meals with see-through packaging and layering, 2021
  21. Appendix – Data Sources, Abbreviations and Supporting Information

    • Abbreviations
    • Consumer research methodology
  22. Appendix: Central Forecast Methodology

    • Market forecast and prediction intervals
      • Figure 71: Market forecast and prediction intervals for UK value sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2021-26
      • Figure 72: Market forecast and prediction intervals for UK volume sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2021-26
    • Market drivers and assumptions
      • Figure 73: Key drivers affecting Mintel’s market forecast, 2021-26
    • Forecast methodology
  23. Appendix: COVID Scenario Performance Methodology and Assumptions

    • Scenario performance
      • Figure 74: Scenario performance for value retail sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2016-26
      • Figure 75: Scenario performance for volume retail sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods, 2016-26
    • Rapid COVID recovery, central and extended COVID disruption scenarios outline
    • Scenario methodology
  24. Appendix – Market Share

      • Figure 76: UK retail sales of leading manufacturers in chilled ready meals, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
      • Figure 77: UK retail sales of leading manufacturers in frozen ready meals, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
      • Figure 78: UK retail sales of leading manufacturers in ready-to-cook foods, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21
      • Figure 79: UK retail sales of leading manufacturers in ambient ready meals, by value and volume, 2018/19-2020/21

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