Microwaveable rice formats, although selling in relatively modest volumes compared to dry, have nevertheless delivered good value growth this year.

The first Uncle Ben's Express rice pouch was launched a decade ago. Now the category is worth well over £100m and put on 9.2% in cash sales in the past 12 months, boosted by new premium flavours including Tilda's Sweet Chilli & Lime and Wholegrain Pilau Steamed Basmati.

A simultaneous 16% increase in volume sales, according to Nielsen, suggests heavy promotional activity. Uncle Ben's, the majority of whose rice sales come from microwaveable formats, has increased its number from 92 to 195 [Assosia 52w/e July 2010], although number two brand by value, Tilda, reduced its deals from 165 to 120.

The fastest growing major brand in microwaveable rice is Veetee, which doubled value sales to £15m [Nielsen 52w/e 10 July]. Veetee chief executive Vikas Magoon says the brand promotes to encourage trial, then banks on the quality of the product to ensure consumers return.

"Penetration is still low and the share of servings of microwaveable is 10-12%, so promotion has to encourage consumer shift," he says. He nevertheless concedes the level of microwaveable rice sold on promotion is not sustainable.

Some brands are focussing on other quick-cook formats as a way of adding value without the need to promote so heavily. Risotto brand Riso Gallo is focussing on its express 12-minute risotto rice. UK director Michael Winfield believes consumers who considered rice "difficult and time consuming" will repeat buy the quick-cook risotto rice because of its convenience.

Focus On Rice & Noodles