Until recently, ready meals relied almost exclusively on the tried-and-tested format of meat and grains with a bit of veg thrown in for good measure. How times have changed. For flexitarianism has emerged as one of the largest drivers of growth in this category.

Posh brand Charlie Bigham’s has achieved the greatest gain of the year of £11.4m (20.9%), largely driven by NPD aimed at the new generation of meat avoiders. “We launched a series of vegetarian dishes to suit consumers that have either made the decision to go meat-free or reduce their meat intake,” says CEO Patrick Cairns.

See Quorn’s growth of more than a fifth for more proof of how the trend is transforming the sector. “Meat-free products are becoming more relevant to UK consumers,” says marketing director Peter Harrison. “Health is a major driver, with consumers citing a healthy lifestyle as the reason for their choice of diet.Sustainability is also influencing choice as consumers increasingly recognise the impact of intensive meat production on the planet.”

Even microwaveable burger brand Rustlers is planning on going veggie, following a flat year. “Flexitarianism is gaining momentum and this, along with continuing to develop the breakfast opportunity, will be a major focal point for us in 2019,” says Adrian Lawlor, marketing and business development director at owner Kepak. “Health trends are also impacting ready meals and microsnacking, and we’ll be capitalising on this next year.”

Quality and convenience are as important as health credentials, says Annie Kimberley, senior brand manager at Kraft Heinz. “Consumers are more concerned with health than ever before and are now constantly on the lookout for ‘better for you’ meal options. However, they distrust the nutritional and health benefits of ready meals, doubting they can be tasty as well as healthy.”

Heinz’s Weight Watchers’ results bear this out: its frozen ready meals are down 6.5% in value and nearly 30% in volume. Kimberley says Kraft Heinz is “currently in the process of developing new flavours to add to the Weight Watchers range”. They’d better be good to arrest a decline of 5.5 million units.


Boxed ready meals

Boxed, Nomad Foods

This brand is testament to demand for eco-friendly fare as much as the trend for frozen premium ready meals. Only six months after launching, Boxed announced a major overhaul in September. Following its sale to Birds-Eye-owner Nomad Foods by William Jackson Food Group, it shrunk its packs from two servings to one in a bid to cater for one-person households and curb food waste. Plus, the meals come in recyclable trays made of sustainably sourced paperboard.