How soups and ready meals offer a sustainable meal solution

06 October 2022, 14:26 PM
  • From a sustainable meal solution to a taste of indulgence, today’s ready meal market is serving up just what today’s shopper wants
How soups and ready meals offer a sustainable meal solution

While the food industry continues to be shaped by the impacts of Covid-19, the meal solution sector is relishing the opportunity to satisfy a newly-grown customer base with a fresh appetite for quality.

“We think that meal solutions have always been judged on three factors – speed/convenience, cost and quality,” begins Kru Mistry, head of operations at Tastesmiths.

“British consumers want something that is quick and easy to prepare, is equivalent or cheaper than a takeaway, and tastes great. Whilst these have always been the criteria for meal solutions, we believe that the emphasis on each is always changing. This is dictated more recently by Covid, the cost-of-living crisis, sustainable living, as well as the increased use of social media.”

A considered solution
Working from home, another long-term effect of Covid-19, also feeds into demand for ready meals with fine food credentials. “Traditionally, convenience and cost have trumped quality in the meal solution space.

However, the legacy of Covid has meant that hybrid working has become the norm, resulting in people utilising the time saved by not commuting to work to do other things, including cooking,” Kru says. “And the cost-of-living crisis and increased focus on sustainability means that people are more aware than before about budgeting for spend (including food) and reducing food waste.”

“With many incomes feeling squeezed in 2022/2023, shoppers are looking to replace the big treats such as holidays or luxury items, with smaller, everyday treats. Premium ready-to-cook meals or foods can offer just such an everyday treat by delivering an affordable alternative to dining out or take-aways,” agrees Matt Whelan, managing director of Fieldfare.

While not a purveyor of ready meals per se, Fieldfare’s offering certainly complements the meal solution sector so has experienced first-hand the changing tide of consumer needs. “One of the big and ongoing factors from our perspective is the significant increase in one and two-person households that we have seen over the past decade or so,” explains Matt.

“What we do very well is the complete meal solution, and single portioned pre-prepared foods and loose foods, such those offered by Fieldfare, allow smaller households more choice, particularly when we consider fragmented diets within the Krue household.”

With many pre-prepared meals and ingredients designed to feed multiple mouths, it can be tricky to cater to smaller households – despite the fact that the number of two-person households is increasing. “It is hard to cook for just one or even two people, and loose and individually portioned foods offer shoppers more control over the quantities they need to buy and prepare and helps them to reduce food and packaging waste.”

Considering the growing number of British consumers opting for plant-based lifestyles or following restricted diets, supplying your customer base with a varied range of single-portion – or self-serve – meal options is a smart move. “The UK’s household dynamics keep changing and fragmentation of dietary preferences within the UK household is becoming more prevalent.

In the UK household, we may find one or two people who have very different requirements or tastes and this is where the flexibility of Fieldfare’s offer can offer a solution. We are putting the consumer in control by giving them the ability to choose what they want and exactly how much they need.”

“Changing dietary choices has meant that more customers are adopting a flexitarian diet, or choosing ‘no meat’ days,” agrees Kru. Flexibility is key here. “Consumers, but in particular these smaller households, want more flexibility,” continues Matt. “They want to have a range of options to choose from, in particular when it comes to dietary preferences, sustainable options including reduced packaging and flexibility on portion sizes or how much they need to buy.”

Of course, while there are plenty of indulgent options out there, soup is renowned for its health-giving properties. Often packed full of vegetables, it’s a go-to for shoppers looking to up their nutrient uptake while not breaking the bank. “One of the key drivers influencing the desire for high-quality meal solutions is the wellness trend, with consumers ever more conscious of their health and diet,” explains Ed Foy, co-founder of PRESS.

“As a result, they’re actively seeking out convenient products that cater to their nutritional needs. This also overlaps with a desire to eat a more plant-based diet – a trend which is at an all-time high.”

“Making healthy ingredients visible will help the category respond to the predicted long-term focus on health, whilst interest in shelf-stable, vegetable-based ready meals points to an opportunity for the segment to tap into the increasingly significant flexitarian trend,” agrees Alice Pilkington, food and drink research analyst at Mintel.

Eco-friendly meals
Sustainability is also an important factor for stockists to consider when creating their ready meal line, as shoppers become more conscious than ever about how their choices affect the world around them, with Alice stating that “providing greater transparency on production can also build trust.”

“As consumers become more aware of how their personal consumption and shopping habits affect the environment, they are beginning to assess the impact of the brands they buy most frequently. As a result, sustainability is becoming a key driver for customers,” continues Ed.

“We source the highest quality fruit and veg from G.A.P. Global certified farms, including the ‘wonky’ ones, to ensure we deliver consistent, quality products that are safe, ethically sourced and set the standard for environmentally conscious farming practices.”

“I do think people are beginning to care more about what they are consuming, as well as wanting to know where their food has come from,” agrees Ruby Bell, co-founder at ByRuby.

“There are a lot of poor-quality convenient food options out there, which is why we try and differentiate ourselves from your traditional ‘ready meal’ by being transparent about what goes into our meals and where we source our meat and ingredients. We are striving to bridge that gap between enjoying the convenience of a pre-made meal without having to feel guilty or suspicious about what you are putting into your body.”

Minimising food waste has become a hot topic for conscious consumers, and soup is bound to be more popular than ever as we move into the colder months and the depths of a cost-of-living crisis. “Generally, of course, soup is a great way of using up spare vegetables at home – so soup is the perfect recipe for reducing food waste at home,” explains Amanda Argent, founder of Soupologie.

“It was thinking about food waste that prompted us to create Souper Cubes. Our frozen cubes of ready-to-heat and eat soups mean that consumers use exactly what they need with the remainder staying in the freezer. This eliminates food waste in the shape of half-used cartons, pots or tins of soup. And being frozen, we are able to use eco-friendly, home compostable packaging for our Souper Cubes.”

With the cost-of-living crisis beginning to bite, convenient meal solutions that offer savings are going to be critical to many households. “By eliminating food waste, a food product immediately becomes cheaper,” explains Amanda.

“The amount of food that is wasted generally in the UK is breathtaking. Anything we can do, as a food producer, to eliminate food waste stops us, as a nation, from literally throwing money away.”

close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing