Sainsbury's Feed Your Family for a Fiver led the way on meal offers. So why is the chain playing catch-up with a ready meal deal? Joanne Grew investigates

It only launched on Wednesday, but critics have already branded Sainsbury's attempt to woo couples with a £10 meal deal as a "boring" attempt to catch up with its rivals' ready meal offers.

The new Wine and Dine for £10 for Two promotion will use Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range and includes a main dish, a side dish, a dessert, a bottle of wine and a soft drink. The company is hoping the inclusion of a soft drink, and availability that extends from Wednesday to Sunday, will ensure the offer stands out from Tesco's £9 deal and £10 promotions at M&S and Waitrose.

But, coming well over a year after M&S introduced its Dine in for Two for £10, does the move stand a chance against the more established promotions?

Sainsbury's appears confident, with a spokesman for the retailer claiming the deal could save shoppers as much as £8 a time compared with buying the items individually. It is also supporting the promotion with a TV ad campaign featuring former EastEnders actor and Strictly Come Dancing star Jill Halfpenny.

But critics say Sainsbury's has got off on the wrong foot, and suggest the offering is not innovative enough to make up for the late entry into the fray, especially as couples have already got into the habit of heading to its rivals for bargain weekend treats.

One analyst describes the move as "quite boring", but believes Sainsbury's has been forced to imitate its competitors because ready meal deal promotions have become an established part of the UK supermarket offer.

Says Credit Suisse analyst Andrew Kasoulis: "It's a me-too move rather than anything out of the ordinary," but Sainsbury's "probably felt it had little choice once it saw its rivals' deals were here to stay.

"The market has seen unprecedented levels of promotions this year as retailers try to combat lower levels of inflation by keeping sales volumes up," he adds.

One thing Kasoulis thinks the retailer has got right, however, is the deal's timing. A September launch takes advantage of the end of the school holidays and the fact couples will have more time to spend together in the evenings. It also gives shoppers a chance to get familiar with the deal in the run-up to Christmas.

ABN Amro analyst Justin Scarborough is more positive still, suggesting the deal is a worthwhile attempt to broaden Sainsbury's customer base and steal market share from its more upmarket rivals. Despite being twice the price of Feed Your Family for a Fiver, he says it is unlikely to damage the chain's value credentials, nurtured through successful initiatives such as Switch and Save and FYFFF, both of which helped transform its perception as one of the pricier supermarkets and boosted sales of its Basics range by 60% last year.

"Sainsbury's has already proved it is very good at managing its ranges, mix, price and promotions," Scarborough says.

"FYFFF improved the consumer's perception of the different ranges and prices, which has helped the retailer trade very strongly. This deal is another example of Sainsbury's using a promotion to appeal to a particular type of shopper in this case those who have been tempted to take advantage of the meal deals at M&S, Waitrose or Tesco."

So, while Sainsbury's late entry has undoubtedly missed out on novelty-factor sales, it adds to the arsenal of value meals Sainsbury's now offers, ensuring that a hole in its offer for couples who want a quality ready meal after tucking the kids up for the night is met.