The decline in the frozen ready meal category is easing off, indicating that the aisle could be back in growth in the coming years.

Although new data from Keynote reveals sales in the £612m category were down 3% in 2007, it is a marked improvement on the 7% and 6% of 2005 and 2006 .

"Penetration is now stabilising and it's clear the market has retrenched around a more loyal group of ready meal customers," said Birds Eye marketing director Ben Pearman.

Keynote said it was thanks to brands such as Birds Eye that the frozen ready meals category was shaking off its reputation as cheap, tasteless and unhealthy. It also singled out Findus's Jean Christophe Novelli range as a success story.

It is hoped the category will be pushed closer to growth by further innovation later this year , including new products in Hain Celestial's Linda McCartney range and the closer involvement of the McCartney family in efforts to rejuvenate the brand.