1.1 Definition and scope of study
Ready meals are dishes that need only to be heated, or prepared in short time, before being consumed. They can be found in different formats such as canned, vacuum-packed or frozen. These ready-to-eat products are distributed in retail stores or small local shops and allow you to eat easily, avoiding concerns about spending any time cooking.
Today we are witnessing a quantitative and qualitative diversification of offer in the ready meals market as more players emerge. In particular, quality is central. The production chain also tends to be more complex, with distributors starting to manufacture their own products, and with the emergence of young companies producing pre-cooked meals in an attempt to shake up the established hierarchy.
The global market is booming. Divided per segment, we find that sales revenue in 2019 was the highest for frozen ready meals, followed by chilled ready meals, and prepared salads. The product offer continues to evolve to cater the needs of different customer types and to meet new trends around food, such as healthiness. Moreover, ready meals are appealing as they offer a fast and convenient way of consuming food, whilst they are also viewed as more appealing due to the relative freshness of ingredients compared to for example frozen foods.
Additionally, the global market is fragmented with a large number of market players. Indeed, the three largest companies (Nestlé, Kraft Heinz Co, and ConAgra Brands) held 12.7% of the total market share in 2019.
There is no denying the popularity of ready meals in the UK: in 2017, the UK ate four times more packaged food than fresh. [The Guardian] In the same year, Daily Mail reported that half of Europe’s ready meals were consumed in the UK. Estimations show that the market is expected to continue to grow in light of product innovation.
In particular, an increasing share of ready meals on the market are marketed to health-conscious consumers, highlighting the taste and quality of the products. Additionally, alternative packaging methods are used to mitigate negative externalities on the environment.
The ready meals market in the UK is relatively concentrated, in 2019 Tesco held 17.9% of all sales measured through brands. Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Asda followed. Together, these four brands held over 50% of the sales.
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