Despite the tough economic climate and shrinking consumer budgets, prepared vegetable and potato products are flying off shelves, new data shows.

Value sales of prepared chilled veg have risen by 7%, to £454.2m, over the past year, and volumes are up 5.2%, to 137.2 million kg, according to the latest category data from Kantar Worldpanel [52w/e 7 August 2011]. Sales of prepared potatoes, such as mashed potatoes and new potatoes with herbs and butter, also rose, with value up 9% to £174.3m and ­volume up 6.9% to 51.5 ­million kg.

Kantar said the growth was largely down to shoppers switching away from conventional, unprepared produce rather than because existing shoppers were buying greater volumes. This is reflected in the data volume sales of unprepared veg and potatoes have dipped 0.9% and 1.5% over the past 12 months, although value sales have held up.

Younger, upmarket shoppers were particularly buying into the prepared veg trend, said Sapna Sejpal, Kantar consumer insight director for fresh produce. "It's a good sector to appeal to," she said. "In terms of potatoes, that's a key target group: it's the demographic the potato industry has been after for several years." There had also been a lot of new product launches in the sector, which had helped growth, she added.

Prepared potato and veg supplier Fenmarc said the growth in prepared products showed shoppers no longer bought prepared produce just for special occasions, but as an everyday purchase. "The need and desire for convenience hasn't gone during the recession, and with people cooking more at home, prepared has been well-placed to meet these needs," said Fenmarc marketing manager, Maria Paice.

Many prepared products were now competitively priced against wholehead, especially when consumers factored in the time taken to prepare the product and the weight lost once products had been peeled, she added.