Unilever is launching three of its key brands, Bertolli, Knorr and Colman's, into chilled ready meals in an attempt to leverage their brand equity in the own label-dominated category.

The nine-strong range, which will be backed with a £1m ad spend, is available in the convenience sector from this week and is designed to plug a gap in the market for "a quality branded ready meal", said Charlotte Brown, customer development project leader at Unilever.

A meat and a vegetarian lasagne as well as a spaghetti carbonara have been introduced under the Bertolli brand; two curries and a sweet & sour chicken dish under the Knorr brand; and three traditional British dishes - cottage pie, sausage & mash and a beef casserole & horseradish dumplings meal - under Colman's.

Positioned at the top end of the market, with a price tag of £3.29, they are made from "premium ingredients" and are ready to serve in less than 10 minutes, said Brown, who predicted the range would generate sales of £15m in its first three years. "We believe there is an opportunity in small stores as 90% of chilled ready meals sales are through multiples," she said.

Listings have been confirmed in Nisa-Today's, Spar and Musgrave.

Unilever will support the launch with a press campaign and in-store activity.

The range, made by Greencore, will go head-to-head with own-label lines, which dominate the category. Andy Cowin, Nisa-today's chilled ready meals buyer, said he welcomed the launch.

"A serious branded offering hasn't been available in chilled ready meals for some time," he said. "Hopefully the provenance of these brands will encourage people to buy them more frequently."

However, the range could struggle with brand perception, said Kate Waddell, director at brand agency Dragon. Bertolli had greater scope for expansion, she said.

"Knorr and Colman's are restricted by old-fashioned perceptions or by the baggage that comes with their association with the ambient aisle," she said.