Own label retains the upper hand in chilled ethnic ready meals, despite a recent move by Patak’s into chilled snacks. But trusted brands still dominate in areas such as ambient cooking sauces

TNS data estimates ethnic ready meals and main meal accompaniments, comprising Indian, Chinese, Thai and Mexican - are worth some £474m, representing 25% of the chilled ready meal category. And more than half the population buys ethnic ready meals six times a year.
Own label has traditionally dominated the chilled aspect of ethnic foods, but there have been signs of brand movement.
In August, Patak’s launched a range of chilled snacks that included onion bhajis with Kashmiri chilli dip, garlic mushroom pakoras with mint and coriander dip, vegetable pakoras with spicy tomato dip, and Jaipuri chicken tikka pakoras with Kashmiri chilli dip.
Marketing group director Fiona Mannion explains that the short shelf life of the chilled sector has added a “degree of complexity”
and it’s been an area in which the retailers have innovated.
“If I were a buyer, why should I take in a brand when I have good own label products?” she asks. “The potential opportunity with brands is for getting into more authenticity and provenance. Consumers acknowledge that Patak’s is a specialist, whereas retailers are more general.
“The Bombay Brasserie range is a more premium offering so tends to have a reasonably exclusive consumer base, but Patak’s is accepted as mainstream so could bring new consumers in. It’s been the most fundamental issue and it is all about giving retailers a compelling argument for having a brand in chilled.”
While retailers continue to retain the upper hand in chilled, brands dominate in the ambient sector. Budgens trading manager Alan Clark says: “Although we have some Indian and Chinese ready meals, we have deliberately not targeted own label in this area because we believe consumers prefer trusted, authentic brands.”
Topping the £192.8m ethnic cooking sauces category is Sharwood’s, which recently carried out research that shows shoppers find the fixtures confusing and give the perception that the ranges on offer are smaller than they actually are.
It recommends that the fixture should be organised by world cuisines; Chinese and Indian offerings should run side by side to help make Asian a stronger destination; and accompaniments should be brought within their parent categories to drive new users and increase ease of purchase.
Patak’s has boosted its own ambient offering with a six-strong range of regional sauces using ingredients from Kerala, Bombay, Kashmir, Jaipur, Goa and the Punjab.
In the Mexican sector, Old El Paso’s meal kits act as an entry point for those who may be confused by the various elements that go to make up a Mexican meal.