Every sub-sector is in growth with snacks and accompaniments doing particularly well. The only exception is Indian cook-in sauces which have dipped in value largely due to heavy promotions. Chilled ready meals and main meal accompaniments have a third of the market and are the key element in driving growth overall. Eating out is most people's way of gaining experience of ethnic cuisines after which they progress to ethnic chilled and frozen ready meals, then move on to the convenience and safety of cook-in sauces and finally try scratch cooking if they are adventurous in the kitchen. Convenience and opportunity to explore new tastes clearly strike a chord with consumers as the chilled meals sector has climbed 63% in the last three years, well ahead of European meals, up 43% in the same period. But there is still enormous potential as average frequency of purchase is still only eight times a year [TNS Superpanel]. Thai and other international meals are the two fastest growing areas at over 50%, the result of an increasing consumer base and significant launches. Indian, the largest sector, and Tex-Mex are both maintaining growth of 24% in line with the market average. Chinese is growing at 17%, its lower performance due to growth in other oriental cuisines, plus the availability of convenient meal formats such as ready-to-heat noodles and stir fry vegetables which enable meals to be prepared simply and quickly in the home [TNS Superpanel/Noon Products]. Noon Products manufactures own label meals for Sainsbury and Waitrose. md Akbar Shirazi says: "None of the ethnic cuisines are eaten in isolation. Consumers' repertoires are expanding, they are trading up and paying more per visit. A key driver here has been the success of takeaway bags and meal deals, a sector worth £110m with sales growing 46% year-on-year. Lower fat versions of traditional favourites have also helped reposition ethnic as an everyday occasion," says Shirazi. S&A Foods, whose own label customers include Asda and Safeway, says its most significant growth has been with Indian pre-pack for Asda. Head of brand development Jeff Nicholas says:"We've done a number of relaunches for the multiple involving new packaging and presentation and improvements to taste profiles, particularly for Jalfrezi, Madras and Korma. These have been supplemented with larger family packs and the range extended with seafood and Paneer." A promotion of three meals for £5 has increased penetration of Indian pre-pack at Asda to 37% from 33%. S&A's response to the evolution of the oriental sector has been to develop products closer to authentic dishes but with sauces that act more like coatings in line with UK tastes. Another major development has been noodle dishes for two retailers. "Noodle dishes have a healthier cooking style than fried, and healthier meals are an important growth area in ethnic," adds Nicholas. Perkins Foods also believes noodle dishes have considerable potential and is expanding its stir fry range with chilled noodles with a soy sauce and sesame oil dressing. Commercial director Tony Hawkins says the rest of its Chinese meal range has performed well and anticipates the sector to grow at 40% a year. In the more conservative and traditional frozen sector, RHM Frozen says its Sharwood's House Specials range has been successful in encouraging consumers to try recipes they are familiar with from local takeaways, such as Jalfrezi, Dopiaza and Pasanda. "Unlike chilled, in frozen the consumer hasn't really started to identify with the regionality of different Indian dishes and the key driver is encouraging them to try different spice levels," says the company. "In oriental, sweet and sour still dominates, but consumers are starting to be receptive to new variants based on flavours which are regional twists on mainstream favourites, such as our House Specials Sweet Chilli Chicken. "The key is to ensure ingredients, flavours and taste profiles are clearly understood by consumers, rather than simply referencing a region as Szechwan." The brand's Balti and Chinese rice bowls with the convenient heat and eat' format are capturing a growing audience among time-poor consumers. Patak's has achieved success in this area with its frozen filled wraps and has now taken the idea further with a new range of chilled microwaveable 350g Indian chilled snack meals for one. Sales and marketing director Alison Cannon says: "They are targeted at young men in a hurry. A lot of what we're doing now is about convenience, making things easy for consumers by creating products that meet the needs of how people live today." In meals, Patak's heartland is in frozen and last year the company relaunched its range of four with new packaging. Two more meals plus a biryani are due out in August. Meanwhile, G Costa's Blue Dragon brand is bringing a new dimension to oriental meals with three ambient meal kits which contain all the essential ingredients for making sushi, green curry and Thai stir fry noodles. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}