The Grocer’s 2017 Top Products Survey, THE definitive guide to the current state of the UK’s grocery industry

Convenience was king in 2017. Just look at the frozen, chilled and ambient ready meals sector’s combined growth of £117m for proof. And for once it’s not purely inflationary; combined volumes are up a solid 1.3%, too.

“Ready meals are the ultimate convenience meal, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate,” says Nielsen senior client analytics manager Hannah Chapman. “This is because consumers are more demanding than ever; they want a convenient product at a good price. And it has to be good for them and meet their dietary requirements.”

And so the players that lack a clear point of difference are not benefiting from the growing amount of space retailers are dedicating to ready meals. Bisto, for example has suffered the greatest loss in the three sectors, of £8.9m. Sharwood’s chilled and frozen ready meals have lost £7.2m (45.5%) combined.

This is partly because retailers are pushing own label, particularly upper-tier ranges. Own label dominates chilled, accounting for 88.4% of value. It’s also delivered £53.6m of sector growth, making it the second-fastest growing own-label sector in this report, after still wine; a neat coincidence, as the use of ‘dine in for’ deals grouping premium meals with wine, dessert and sides continues to drive growth as shoppers do ‘big nights in’.

Demand for indulgence and meal deals has helped drive £7.3m growth for posh chilled brand Charlie Bigham’s. Even Rustlers has launched a Gourmet burger (see below). Its £5.8m gain is partly down to this. The brand says it can add £50m to the sector by 2021.

In ambient, market leader Pot Noodle is losing share as posher instant noodle brands such as Kabuto (up 5.2% to £4m) gain listings. But brand owner Unilever has managed to offset Pot Noodles flat sales with the launch of Pot Pasta. So far it’s racked up £600k.

That Quorn is up £3.9m (in frozen and chilled) proves that dietary need is a key trend. It’s also spent big on TV ads. “By highlighting how easy it is to make great-tasting dishes with Quorn we’re attracting new shoppers and encouraging brand loyalists to choose our meals more often,” says category management head Julian Cooke.


Rustlers burgers

Rustlers Gourmet burgers by Kepak

Burgers have seriously smartened up over the last few years, gracing menus in the fanciest restaurants, and Rustlers has responded with the launch of this premium packaged Gourmet burger. Of course, you still nuke it to cook it, but now you can enjoy an ‘authentic and unbeatable’ flame-grilled 100% beefburger with bacon, cheese, mustard mayo and ketchup in a brioche bun in under a minute. Backed by a £2.5m campaign, its TV ads are brilliant, too.

The Grocer Top Products Survey 2017: Up!