Microwaveable rice is one of the fastest growing categories in the ambient market, with new recipe innovations fuelling sales

A handy solution for the growing number of time-pressed consumers seeking convenience, microwaveable rice pouches have in the past couple of years proved to be the biggest winners in the total rice category.
In fact, the sector is now one of the fastest growing categories within the ambient grocery market.
Valued at £51m, microwaveable rice is currently growing at 43% in value year-on-year [TNS 52 w/e May 22, 2005], with sales fuelled by recipe rice rather than by plain white, says Tilda, which claims recipe rice now accounts for more than half of sales in this sector.
Still in its infancy with less than 20% of UK households currently buying into the sector, there is still plenty of room for further growth, according to Tilda, which entered the fray with its Rizazz rice range in May 2001. “Tilda initially suggested the microwaveable rice market would be worth £25m after five years, but it is already worth more than double that, so this sector could more than double again in the next five years,” says Laurie Chalmers, Tilda Rizazz brand manager.
Chalmers also points to off-fixture displays as key to attracting new users to the sector, as research by Tilda has shown that the microwave user rarely visits the dry rice aisle. “Off-shelf fixture displays can substantially increase penetration and further fuel category growth,” she says.
Tilda recently unveiled a major makeover of its Rizazz range, introducing striking packaging and five new recipes aimed at broadening the appeal of microwaveable rice by providing an entry point for current savoury rice consumers to trade up into
the sector, as well as attracting busy and discerning consumers who want interesting rice recipes that complement their meals.
Not to be left out, Masterfoods added three flavours to its brand-leading Uncle Ben’s Express rice range in June and also kicked off 2005 with a £2m sampling campaign as well as a £3m TV and press marketing push. According to Masterfoods, the success of the microwaveable rice sector is primarily down to a change in eating habits.
“The phenomenal growth is being driven by the fact that 46% of meals are eaten alone, compared with 15% 20 years ago,” says Joy Marsden, trade relations manager.
The Express line, which first hit shelves in 2000 and was the pioneer of the microwaveable rice market, now accounts for a 75% value share of the microwaveable ambient rice market [ACNielsen 52 w/e June 11, 2005].
However, Tony O’Connor, sales and marketing director at Veetee rice, says there is scope for more innovation in the category. “Most of the new product development in the past year has been on flavoured rice. The challenge for manufacturers is to produce a white microwaveable rice which has the quality of home-cooked rice. The current product offering does not meet that requirement.”
He adds: “Another area of development would be the addition of protein in flavoured rice.”
When it comes to packaging, the pouch is still leading the way within the microwaveable sector, and this trend looks set to continue.
“I am sure in time we will see new variants of the pouch or alternative innovative formats, but for now the pouch seems here to stay,” says Tracy Hughes, trade marketing controller at Blue Dragon.
The company recently launched jasmine and coconut-flavoured microwaveable variants to fill a gap that it has identified in the category for consumers looking for convenient Oriental meal solutions.