Convenience products - such as microwaveable rice and straight-to-wok noodles in pouches - and healthy options such as wholegrain are leading growth within the rice and noodles sector. Lisa Riley reports

Microwaveable rice has proved to be the undisputed champion when it comes to driving growth within the rice market, benefiting from the nation’s hunger for convenient meal solutions.
Steaming ahead of the £171m total rice market, which grew 5.5% year-on-year, the relative newcomer increased sales by more than 43% in the latest year, and the sector is now worth an impressive £51m [TNS 52 w/e May 22, 2005].
“Microwaveable rice is a rising star of the £14bn ambient grocery market. It is one of the fastest growing categories, gaining nearly £1m every four weeks,” says Laurie Chalmers, brand manager for Tilda’s microwaveable range Rizazz. The handy pouch packaging has gone a long way in securing success for the microwaveable sector.
“Tilda Rizazz, along with the microwaveable sector, has led the drive to deliver convenience to the consumer via pouch technology. The microwaveable ambient pouch is perfect for delivering high quality convenience products and looks set to stay,” says Chalmers.
The only other categories to show growth are dry speciality, up 1.6% to more than £10m, and wholegrain, says TNS. Sales of the latter jumped 41% and this sector is now valued at £7m.
“Interest in healthy eating is increasing and wholegrain rice in particular is benefiting from this trend, with more than 650,000 new households buying wholegrain this year,” says Joy Marsden, trade relations manager at Masterfoods - owner of market leader Uncle Ben’s.
Developed to meet demand from the growing number of health-conscious and time-pressed consumers, Masterfoods recently extended its rice portfolio to include microwaveable and boil-in-the-bag wholegrain rice, which the company says is the first of its kind to hit the market.
Basmati rice continues to be a popular choice, accounting for 21.5% of the total rice market, and some of the major brands continue to report a rise in sales of their basmati
brands. However, the rice is falling out of favour with consumers, says TNS, with value sales down nearly 10%.
Last year, basmati, the so-called prince of rices, overtook long grain in British supermarkets for the first time, but this year it is back in second place valued at just less than £37m, says TNS, compared to long grain, which clocked up sales of £40m, a drop of 6.6%.
After concerns that basmati rice sold in the UK contains higher levels of other non-basmati varieties - basmati rice only grows in specific regions of India and Pakistan - members of the British Retail Consortium recently signed up to a new code of practice aimed at reassuring consumers that rice labelled and sold as basmati is the real deal.
Looking at the noodles market, it has not been the best of years for the sector, which TNS values at £120m, down 6.4% since 2004.
Bucking this negative trend, plain noodles are experiencing strong growth of 16.1% year-on-year, driven by an increase of households buying into
the sector, as well as benefiting from more premium offerings which are driving market value, says TNS.
However, the savoury sector, which makes up a massive 85% of the total noodles market, is struggling with the pot and block sub-sectors, which experienced value decline of 7.6% and 12.9% respectively.
According to TNS, the drop in sales is down to value being lost through decreases in the average price of noodles, rather than a drop in the number of buyers, with price competition between the retailers the biggest contributor.
Wet noodles are faring far better than the dry variety, as the convenience factor has helped to boost sales.
Valued at £19.5m, up 6%, branded offerings are king of the castle when it comes to noodles, whereas own label continues to decline rapidly, down in value 28% year-on-year to £4.7m [ACNielsen Scantrack MAT May 14, 2005].
Sharwood’s, the third best-selling noodles brand with its Medium Egg Noodles [TNS], recently stepped up its innovation with the launch of Noodle Box, a range of New York takeaway-style noodles aimed at the growing trend towards quick and light bites instead of three meals a day.
“Our new Noodle Box range is in keeping with the new trend for lighter eating. It’s a totally new concept for the ambient aisle, offering an opportunity to bring oodles of new consumers into noodles,” says Sharwood’s group brand manager, Helen Williams.