Ready meals are big business. The UK market is worth an estimated £4.7 billion annually.
The market has traditionally been dominated by supermarket own-label products, but in recent years there has been growth in the number of products sold under premium brands, such as Charlie Bigham's, and increasingly from specialist ready-to-cook meal companies, such as Cook.
How have these brands succeeded in penetrating a market so saturated by own-label?
Whilst own-label frequently focusses on quick, cheap, guilty pleasures, these new players have taken a different approach:
Ease over speed
Rather than focussing on the quick, `ready in 3 minutes' approach, the premium brands have focussed on providing home cooked meals without the stress (most take 30+ mins to cook).
Cook, a successful frozen meal company with 108 UK stores, uses the tagline `we Cook, so you don’t have to'. Each product comes with a familiar explanation of how it was made, just like you would at home.
Transparency in ingredients
Consumers are increasingly demanding more transparency over the food they are consuming. These brands focus on `real' food, with none of the additives or nasty surprises, which are often associated with own-label ready meals.
Pieminister's supermarket range puts emphasis on the award winning, British meat it uses and one of Charlie Bingham's USPs is the lack of additives in the products.
Value, not cheap
Charlie Bigham products, found in supermarkets alongside own-label ready meals, are often £2+ more expensive than their own-label counterparts. The success of this brand demonstrates that some customers are ready to pay a premium for superior quality and taste.
The brands have focussed on communicating these differentiating factors through their packaging. Supermarkets have responded by broadening their premium own-label ranges. However, with a stigma attached to own-label ready meals, it is a lot harder to persuade more discerning consumers to buy these over branded pre-prepared products.
That said, the market is heavily dominated by meat-based products. Despite the introduction of `Wicked' plant-based meals in Tesco, and the imminent launch of the Feed Me Vegan range at Waitrose, there is a distinct lack of vegan or sustainable brands. Given the macro-trends towards healthier eating, and reductions in meat consumption, this is likely to represent a significant growth opportunity for the category in future.