Almost two years on from the first discovery, and ready meals are still haunted by Horsegate. Chilled ready meals - unfairly dragged into the scandal via a so-called ‘false positive’ - have suffered a second successive year of volume decline, after a near-decade of double-digit growth.

And while frozen ready meals have been in long-term decline for years (with volumes down by 0.7%, 5.5% and 7.3% in 2011 to 2013), the 5.2% fall in volume sales in 2014 suggests it’s not getting much easier.

Findus - the ready meals brand most closely associated with the scandal via some notorious lasagnes that were found to contain 100% horsemeat - has dropped out of the top 10 altogether, its Crispy Pancakes now in 12th place.

ready meals table

And while a new Bisto range was a rare exception in doubling sales to £20.4m, parent Kerry Foods is reportedly looking to offload its frozen food assets and to focus on its ingredients business.

Of course, like other categories, ready meals brands have also been affected by intense competition from own label, with Rustlers and Innocent among the obvious casualties. But it’s impossible to underestimate the impact Horsegate had, not only on consumers, but retailers and suppliers, too.

“The industry lost its mojo,” says Greencore CEO Patrick Coveney. “In response, retailers and manufacturers simplified supply chains, and confidence has been rebuilt. Unfortunately it’s not feeding through into volume yet, but we think it will begin to deliver growth. Product quality is better than for some time.”

Having said that, it’s the food-to-go side of Greencore’s business that’s growing (in the UK and the US). And it’s the same for Bakkavor. While its recent results showed it outperforming the market, CEO Agust Gudmundsson says growth has been in salads and meal salads - including hot meal salads. “Chilled ready meals is difficult. Volumes are down. Innovation is hard to come by. There continues to be an oversupply in the market. Too many people, too many factories, fighting over volume that is, at best, static. It means margins are going down while the cost of goods goes up.”

chicken tikka masala

Top launch: Charlie Bigham’s curries by Charlie Bigham’s

Charlie Bigham’s is proof - despite Horsegate, price wars and discounters - chilled ready meals can still grow. “Consumers are much less interested in price than the supermarkets believe them to be,” The key to success has been NPD. It added 10 new dishes this year, including its first-ever curry range (a chicken tikka masala, jalfrezi and korma). “Our customers wanted a delicious curry. We spent a lot of time developing a range to ensure it was the best.”