produced for the Meat and Livestock Commission by The Grocer Oscar Mayer's British beef success story Oscar Mayer is Sainsbury's largest chilled ready meals supplier, producing a million meals a week for the retailer. It is an important part of the Hygrade Food Group which has an annual turnover exceeding £230m. The company has more than 100 ready meal recipes in its portfolio, the largest category of which comprises traditional UK dishes. Marketing manager Melinda Munds said: "To produce the best quality meals we have to use the best ingredients. We can be assured that when using British beef we are getting the best quality. This is a very competitive market and we find that by putting the British Meat logo on our beef products we can secure added value. Consumers are becoming very aware of British reassurances on pack through the work of the MLC and initiatives such as the NFU's British Farm Standard logo and they are looking out for such references." Oscar Mayer considers that the total chilled ready meals market is worth £900m at rsp annually and growing at 20% year on year. Beef and lamb dishes account for around 25% of the market. While the core of the market comprises traditional dishes such as cottage pie, beef stew and dumplings, Cumberland pie and Lancashire hot pot, it is seeing growth in other areas. The company's Italian meals such as lasagne (which also incorporates British beef) are growing, as well as Indian and Chinese recipes which tend to be chicken and prawn based. Munds said: "We have found that consumers may choose an ethnic recipe once during the week, but will turn more frequently to traditional dishes during the remainder of the week for their predominant meal solutions." Although traditional dishes are a vital element of the chilled ready meals market, it doesn't mean that innovation cannot play a part. Oscar Mayer has a strong research and development team that continually looks at changing trends. It has highlighted a growing consumer need for healthy, indulgent and inspiring recipes to satisfy changing demands or changing taste buds. Munds said: "Where once some consumers were looking for beef stew, now they want beef chasseur. They want the reassurance of familiarity, but they also want innovation. While traditional dishes form the core, the industry is increasingly being called upon to provide more choice to meet diversifying consumer demands." An example of how the company is tackling this issue can be seen in its Italian entrée range of dishes. Building on the familiarity of beef and mash, it has introduced beef with olive oil and garlic mash. It has also introduced an increasing number of wine sauces to its beef ready meals. So who is driving the market - the industry or the consumers? Munds believes it is being driven from many angles. "Consumers want innovation and convenience to meet their busy lifestyles and it is up to the industry to find ways to provide this. But the media also plays an important part, heightening awareness about health and the wealth of cuisines available. Consumers are currently very aware about reducing fat levels, for example." Within the healthier eating category, Oscar Mayer works closely with Sainsbury in producing dishes for its Be Good To Yourself range, for which it currently supplies almost half of the ready meal lines. Increased disposable income also plays its part in product selection, but this doesn't necessarily equate solely to a demand for premium products. Munds said: "Consumers are travelling more and experiencing a wider choice of cuisines. They then want to be able to get these dishes at home and are willing to accept alternative ingredients which we may incorporate. "Over the last year, 70% of all UK households purchased a ready meal. This is a vast audience comprising different demographics. We have to observe their needs and link them to our global research of changing trends and lifestyles." Oscar Mayer believes that organic ready meals have not yet made an impact on consumer choice. Munds said: "We have produced organic ready meals, but this sector does not form a large percentage of sales. Our research shows that the majority of consumers are not yet ready for organic ready meals. Their first choice is convenience and this is becoming more important as we attract new generations who have less experience of cooking. Our priority is to meet consumers' demands for convenience, health, choice and flavour. We believe the market will continue to be driven by these elements." Two areas which the company sees expanding in the foreseeable future are a greater selection of portion sizes and an increase in snacking opportunities. Changes already afoot include moves for smaller portions for one person consumption as well as larger packs, not only for two people, but to meet the needs of families who use the product as a meal centre. In terms of snacking, the company sees the ready meals industry building on the cereal manufacturers' success of meeting the needs of people who skip breakfast, but will pick up a product to eat on the move or at the office. Munds said: "We can build on this snacking culture. Many offices have microwave ovens for staff use. The 99p meal such as a shepherd's pie can offer the perfect solution for a mid-day snack. "The market still has a great deal of opportunities for development and the industry is proving it can be a major force in driving sales." {{MLC }}