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Treating ourselves at home is one of the enduring effects of the pandemic, and as many purse strings are tightened as a result of the cost-of-living crisis so affordable luxuries such as quality meal solutions take hold in the nation’s shopping baskets.
Indulgence also plays a part in the British consumer’s purchase of ready meals and meal solutions, with many seeing such meals as an opportunity to enjoy meals that they would not ordinarily cook for themselves at home, either due to time constraints, skill level or lifestyle choice.
Being lower in price than the vast majority of restaurant meals and takeaway options means that ready meals are often seen as a more affordable way to eat chef-prepared meals. Indeed, according to Mintel’s Ready Meals and Ready-To-Cook Foods Market Report 2022, 63% of UK adults state that they purchase ready meals as an alternative to having a takeaway, and the trend is predicted to gain momentum over the next few months.
“Budget and quality are also considerations with more premium options often serving as a treat meal and others serving as everyday options,” explains Matt Whelan, managing director at Fieldfare. “By offering loose products, Fieldfare gives shoppers more flexibility and control over what they put in their basket.
“Ultimately it helps them to avoid waste and to manage their budgets better, which is particularly important in the current climate. Through our individual portions, people are also able to reward themselves with affordable little treats such as our delicious individual desserts and cakes, or frozen breakfast pastries for a delicious treat breakfast on the weekend!”
We’ve all indulged in an Indian takeaway or two (or more), so it’ll be no surprise to know that they have long held the top or second spot for most popular takeaway option in Britain. Meal solutions, such as those offered by Tastesmiths, make enjoying restaurant-quality international meals at home quicker, cheaper, and more manageable than consumers may imagine. “Cooking Indian food can be a daunting experience,” says Kru Mistry, head of operations at Tastesmiths.
“The sheer number of spices needed, with each ingredient normally only needed in small amounts and often hard to find, means that most people find it much more convenient opting for a takeaway instead.”
Meal solutions like Tastesmiths’ take the fuss out of the equation. “We take the hard work out, and package everything in one place for our customers. All they need to do is add their choice of meat, fish or veg. Our kits only contain real food; this means no additives, preservatives, or natural colourings found in jars, and also no manufactured pastes.
“Whilst cooking from scratch does take longer than using pastes or jars, the easy-to-follow instructions make sure that customers know exactly what needs to be done, without being patronising and also leaving space for some creative flair.”
By providing a product that not only takes a lot of the mess and time out of creating delicious international food but allows for a sense of accomplishment for the cook, Tastesmiths is onto a winning formula. “Most importantly, we believe cooking provides moments of mindfulness and relationship building for individuals and families,” says Kru. “And the ‘I made that’ moment at the end when the meal is ready to eat is unbeatable.”
A convenient future
From the growing appreciation for quality food and drink to the sustainability question, there are plenty of opportunities for independent fine food retailers and the producers who partner with them to capitalise on ready meals and meal solutions. “We are seeing three key trends happening in the meal solution segment,” explains Kru.
“Firstly, there is a move towards using fresh ingredients and eating real food rather than processed or manufactured products. Customers want a more involved experience with food (rather than putting something straight into the microwave). They want to be able to feel, smell, touch food, and know exactly what’s in their meal.
“Secondly, with increasingly varied diets, customers are looking for solutions that will cater for friends and all members of the family, and maintain the shared eating experience rather than having people feel ‘left out’.
“Thirdly, there is a need to increase sustainability by reducing/eliminating waste – both food and packaging. Companies need to minimise packaging (especially non-recyclable), and make sure portion sizes are well measured for customers. The former is an ongoing process for us – we’re not perfect yet, but we’re making steps to get there.”
The future looks bright for the frozen food sector too – great news for meal solutions and the customers who enjoy them. “There is still room for the frozen market to grow. As shoppers continue to discover the benefits of frozen, including the naturally longer shelf life and opportunity to try new dishes and flavours, there is the opportunity for the sector to gain a bigger share of the ready meal market.”
Key to Speciality Food readers cashing in on this opportunity is offering a carefully balanced blend of quality and convenience. “By offering more flexibility and choice, plus being uncompromising on quality, Fieldfare believes that there is also a substantial opportunity to develop the sector within the fine and speciality foods market,” says Matt.